Work & Multiple Sclerosis
Experts describe strategies that help multiple sclerosis patients cope with symptoms of the disease.
How to Tell Your Boss
Often, disclosure accompanies a request for special workplace
accommodations. The approach can sway the outcome, Nissen notes. "It's more
than saying 'This is what I need from you.' It's 'Here's how I can be more
productive, effective, and reliable,'" Nissen tells WebMD.
In the best-case scenario, such discussions with an employer begin as open,
two-way dialogues. "It really needs to be an interactive process. You can't
just go in there, make your demands, and walk out," Nissen says.
"When it comes to accommodations, there are so many different
possibilities based on symptoms and job duties," Nissen tells WebMD. An
accommodation may mean an altered work schedule with shortened hours or
telecommuting on an as-needed basis when fatigue becomes overwhelming. It may
mean adaptive equipment that allows an employee to talk into a computer rather
than tap on a keyboard. It might mean keeping one room at a lower temperature
than the rest of the office, if heat sensitivity is an issue.
"These types of accommodations seem basic but they can really make a
difference," Nissen says. Some cost more than others. To find out what's
available, Nissen recommends that employees start researching locally,
beginning with an area NMSS chapter and incorporating other resources such as
one's state office of vocational rehabilitation.
Alternatives to Work
Choosing not to work full time anymore doesn't have to mean an end to
productivity. "There are still ways to contribute as an active member of
society," Nissen notes. Levy serves as a prime example. Having cut back to
part-time work while battling daily pain and fatigue, she continued to find
meaning through volunteer work.
"I stayed positive," says Levy who, almost immediately after being
diagnosed, got involved in fundraising for the disease. "That's where I
found my support group -- among other fundraisers," Levy tells WebMD.
Clearly, how people with MS cope makes a difference in their day-to-day
"Those who have the hardest time are those who see it as a war to win.
That's a setup for feelings of failure, guilt, and inadequacy when and if they
can't beat it," says clinical psychologist Rosalind Kalb, PhD, director of
the NMMS Professional Resource Center.
"Those most successful are those who say 'I can't win the war, but let's
look at which aspects I can conquer,'" Kalb tells WebMD. To this end, Kalb
urges patients to break the disease down into individual challenges, whether
fatigue or spasticity. "This way, they feel like they're managing the
disease rather than vice versa," she says.
Lifestyle choices can also make an impact on one's ability to manage MS.
Impact of Exercise
Exercise is one such choice. "Many years ago they used to say 'Don't
exercise, it will make you too tired.' Now, we're encouraging patients to stay
as active as possible," says Sheila Schaffer, a physical therapist at
Kernan Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation Hospital in Baltimore.
New research results promote physical activity. One study found that
exercise improved fitness and function in people with mild MS and helped
maintain function for those with moderate or severe MS. Investigators found
aerobic exercise that incorporated balance training to be the most effective
type. In yet another study, an eight-week progressive resistance-training
program improved walking and overall functional ability in people with moderate