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Many benefits come with the ability of an MS patient to stay in the workforce, including greater independence as well as personal income, better physical health from continued activity, and better mental health due to socialization.

Multiple sclerosis can be a huge disruption in daily life from many different angles. Due to fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and general mobility issues, not to mention cognitive impairment that multiple sclerosis can cause, there are times patients have trouble getting out of bed, much less performing normal activities. It’s only made more difficult by the fact that a relapse is hard to predict, and symptoms can strike at any time, on any level, at any point in the progression of the disease.

One of the most devastating hardships is the loss of a job or career, especially for those who have worked hard to achieve a certain goal or who greatly enjoy their work. While not all multiple sclerosis patients face this, or won’t face it at the beginning, there are extreme difficulties in maintaining certain vocations, which can lead to losing or having to quit a job based on capabilities. Fortunately, there are alternative solutions. Vocational rehabilitation can help treat multiple sclerosis patients in a number of ways.

 

Why quitting is sometimes an option

While no one wants to give up their careers, there are any number of reasons a multiple sclerosis patient may feel it’s necessary to leave a certain company or industry or step out of the workforce altogether for a period of time.

  • The disease is newly diagnosed, and the patient isn’t used to symptoms or has not yet learned how to cope with the changes they bring to their lifestyle. This could require time to adjust without interference from other obligations, like full time work.
  • The job is too physically demanding. If an MS patient spends all day on their feet or does manual labor, these tasks could be difficult to continue and could have a negative impact on their health. Whether these jobs cause fatigue or patients are simply unable to complete the tasks, it may not be possible to continue with the job.
  • The company is unwilling to make concessions when relapses occur, so the patient can’t take time off or work from home; in addition, the work environment may not be conducive to the patient’s needs with the company unwilling to offer additional assistance to help them function in the office.
  • There is too much stress or pressure, which can exacerbate symptoms and even cause a relapse; there could also be processes requiring fast paced thought, which is difficult based on damage to nerves that cause cognitive impairment.

It might be acceptable to those with extremely advanced forms of the disease to bow out of the workforce permanently, especially since that progression could cause severe disabilities. But for those who are still young and able bodied between relapses, it’s highly frustrating and, for some, devastating to think that they can’t follow a career path they set for themselves.

Vocational rehabilitation

Every state in the country has a vocational rehabilitation agency to help people get back to work. This includes those with disabilities, as well as those trying to overcome setbacks in their health, such as MS patients. There are also private therapists to assist with vocational rehabilitation.

Because patients tend to focus too heavily on the disease when they aren’t working, this can also be detrimental to mental health, making vocational rehab an essential part of therapy for people with multiple sclerosis. The idea behind vocational rehab is to get the patient back into the workforce, one way or another. Finding a job is hard enough without a disability and only gets more difficult with a hindrance like MS.

Vocational rehab counselors have the training and the resources to help patients with MS find jobs that won’t overtax their energy, will satisfy them mentally, and that can be maintained, even if adjustments are necessary.

Initial efforts will be made to assist with:

  • Making adjustments to an existing work schedule so that patients are able to complete the amount of work necessary to maintain the job without reaching a point of exhaustion or fatigue
  • Finding and using the right assistive devices so that patients don’t have a disability hindering their work
  • Employing specialized software that helps patients make up for any cognitive deficiencies that could otherwise make the job impossible
  • Finding a position that uses the patient’s skills and keeps them in a field that satisfies them, leading to overall greater contentment

How vocational rehab works

Several steps come into play for vocational rehabilitation to work in treating multiple sclerosis. It’s important for patients to expect the process to take time and effort on the part of the counselor, as well as their own input. A baseline for expectations includes:

  1. An initial meeting with a vocational counselor will help to create a vocational profile with information regarding:
    1. Education
    2. Work experience and skills
    3. Various aptitudes and abilities
    4. Interests and preferences
    5. Limitations caused by multiple sclerosis
  2. For several days, the patient will be involved in a complete diagnostic vocational evaluation. This includes comprehensive assessments, such as formal tests, research, exploration of vocational options, and career counseling.
  3. Goals and challenges are put together and determine a goal-oriented action plan for the patient, which can include any and all of the following:
    1. Suggestions for how to discuss the disease and limitations with a potential employer
    2. Tips on how to go about requesting reasonable accommodations for disabilities
    3. Assistance in networking to help identify and contact potential employers
    4. Thirty to sixty-minute sessions of either individual or group counseling (or both)

Conclusion

Many benefits come with the ability of an MS patient to stay in the workforce, including greater independence as well as personal income, better physical health from continued activity, and better mental health due to socialization, focus on things outside of the disease, and a sense of accomplishment. Even if the trajectory of a career path has to be altered for the patient to succeed, it’s vital to make sure MS patients have access to opportunities for extending their time in a profession they love or work that makes them happy, especially under the supervision of a vocational rehabilitation counselor who can assure the safety and support required.

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