Parkinson’s Disease: Issues of Work and Disability

More than a million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease.

That is why it is one of the threads we are following in this blog. In our September 19 post, we took note of the new TV show starring one of the nation’s most high-profile people with Parkinson’s disease, actor Michael J. Fox.

In today’s post, let’s discuss in broader terms the question of how Parkinson’s disease impacts someone’s ability to work.

Our point of departure in addressing this question, of course, is the same as for any other condition that causes impairments that significantly affect someone’s ability to work. When those impairments – from Parkinson’s or anything else – become severe, eligibility for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits should be considered.

In the case of Parkinson’s, there is a wide variability on how soon, and to what extent, Parkinson’s symptoms affect the capacity to work. This is due, in large part, to the fact that Parkinson’s is a progressive disease whose symptoms develop slowly over time.

In fact, Parkinson’s develops so slowly that is insidious. The disease can go undetected for quite awhile before it is diagnosed.

Slowly developing as it may be, though, as a progressive disease it is also relentless. Medication may help for awhile, and exercise programs can play a role, but there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms of the disease go far beyond the hand tremors that are generally associated in the public mind with Parkinson’s. They include the slowing or outright loss of muscle movements and impaired posture (Parkinson’s stoop).

Parkinson’s can even result in changes in speech, reducing a once-resonant voice to a monotone that is a virtual whisper compared to what it was before.

In short, Parkinson’s is much more than hand tremors. It is a nasty brain disease in which diminished dopamine (a key body chemical) impairs the brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of the body.

And all of these symptoms can impact someone’s ability to work.

Source: The Michael J. Fox Foundation, “Parkinson’s and Employment”