Work and Parkinson's Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2017

Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects people differently, and the ability to continue working will be based on the individual’s experience of PD symptoms, their severity, and how much the symptoms interfere with the person’s job duties. Most people with PD who worked before their diagnosis continue to work afterwards, at least for a period of time. That period of time differs for each person as the severity of symptoms and progression of the disease affects people differently.

Many people with early stage PD can continue working without any issues. People who are diagnosed with young-onset PD (YOPD) may be especially concerned with their ability to work, as they may have financial responsibilities related to raising a family and be many years away from traditional retirement age. There are several things to consider about working with PD:

  • The physical demands and environment of the job
  • The individual’s symptoms and response to medication
  • The individual’s rate of disease progression
  • Financial issues
  • The supportiveness of the employer, boss, and coworkers1,2

When to tell your employer and coworkers

Many people with PD struggle with when to tell their boss, employer or coworkers about their disease, and the decision is based on many individual factors. Some prefer to keep their personal lives separate from their professional ones. While having a disability is not a legal reason for termination (see the Americans with Disabilities Act below), people can be fired for being unable to perform their job satisfactorily. Some people find that their coworkers and boss are very supportive and gain a lot of strength from those relationships. However, it depends on how the relationships were prior to diagnosis, as well as the individual’s performance and contributions to the work.2

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides protection against discrimination towards people with disabilities. Job protection under the ADA is only applicable if the individual is disabled and informs their employer of their disability. Parkinson’s disease in its advanced stages is considered a disability. The law requires that employers make “reasonable accommodations” for employees, as long as they do not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business. Reasonable accommodations include modifications or adjustments to the job or the work environment that enable a person with disabilities to perform essential job functions. The Job Accommodation Network is a resource that shares accommodation ideas for people with PD.1-3

Modifications and adaptations in the workplace

There are several modifications that can be made to the workplace to enable someone with PD to continue to work effectively. Occupational therapists can be a valuable resource and provide individual recommendations for adaptations or assistive devices to a person’s workplace. Some common adaptations for the workplace include:

  • Allowing a flexible schedule and/or flexible use of leave time to accommodate symptoms like fatigue
  • Allowing an individual to work from home
  • Reducing the amount of walking required or providing a scooter
  • Installing an ergonomic work station
  • Providing voice-recognition software instead of typing
  • Providing speech amplifiers1,3

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