Parkinson's and employment: how to stay in work or find a new job

Man with Parkinson's looks for work on computer

Living with Parkinson's and want to work?

Many people with Parkinson's disease (PD) continue to work for several years after their diagnosis. With the right support and workplace accommodations, employment can provide a sense of purpose, meaning and connection.

In this guide you will find information about jobs for people with Parkinson's disease, including:

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is a condition which affects the nervous system. It is caused by damage to the nerve cells in the brain that are responsible for producing dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps control muscles and movement.

The main symptoms of Parkinson's disease include:

  • Tremors, especially in the hands
  • Rigidity and stiffness
  • Balance problems
  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia)

In addition to the physical symptoms above, Parkinson's disease is often accompanied by a range of other symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Sleep troubles
  • Loss of smell

The progression of Parkinson's disease is slow and varies from person to person. With the right support and adjustments, people with PD can continue to lead full and fulfilling lifestyles, which can include working.

Can you work if you have Parkinson's disease?

Everyone who lives with Parkinson's disease will have a different experience.

Whether you can continue to work depends on the:

  • Type and severity of your symptoms
  • Type of job duties you are required to do
  • Amount of support your employer can give you

Many people continue to work after their Parkinson's diagnosis. For some, their symptoms do not greatly affect their working life.

For others, Parkinson's symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, slow movement, fatigue and trouble concentrating can make it challenging to continue working at the same capacity.

Symptoms may even make some jobs dangerous, for example driving a truck or operating machinery that requires fine motor coordination. Those who want to continue to work may transfer their skills to a different role or change careers entirely.

With the right support and access to workplace modifications, many of the challenges can be overcome. Many people living with Parkinson's have a successful and fulfilling work life.

Parkinson’s and employment: what are your options?

After receiving a Parkinson's diagnosis, a person may decide to:

  • Stay in their current job with appropriate workplace adjustments or reduced workload
  • Transfer their skills to a new role, sometimes in the same workplace
  • Find a new job or start a new career
  • Work as a volunteer
  • Go into early retirement

Deciding whether you should keep working is a personal decision that should be made alongside medical advice. Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to seek professional help to ensure you can stay in control of your health now and into the future.

If you are living with Parkinson's and want to keep working, support is available. APM can help you find employment opportunities or access workplace support to help you feel confident in the workplace. Call us today on 1800 276 276.

Man with Parkinson's and colleague working at computer

How do PD symptoms affect work?

The ways in which Parkinson's affects someone's working life varies from person to person.

  • Fatigue can make it hard to keep up with demands of the workplace or maintain full time hours.
  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia) can make it challenging to keep to deadlines or cope in a fast paced work environment.
  • Loss of motor control can make a person's handwriting less legible and may lead to communication issues.
  • Speech and vocal changes can also cause communication issues.
  • Difficulty with multi-tasking can limit the type and amount of tasks a person can take on.
  • Stress and anxiety in the workplace can make tremors and other symptoms worse.
  • Issues with mobility and posture can make it difficult to perform physical duties.

With support from your employer, many of these challenges can be overcome with workplace adaptations and adjustments.

Staying in your current role

If you are living with Parkinson's disease and want to continue working in the same job, support is available to help you continue working with confidence.

Workplace modifications are changes in your job role, workstation or workplace that can help you manage your symptoms and do your job well.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, Australian employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to help employees do their work well and safely. Your employer may be eligible for funding from the government to access workplace modifications at no cost to them or you.

Parkinson's is a long-term disorder and symptoms may develop or change overtime. It's important that workplace modifications are frequently reviewed to make sure you are getting the support you need.

Workplace accommodations for Parkinson's disease

It can feel overwhelming or stressful if you are no longer able to perform your work duties in the same way or at the level you used to.

Adapting the workplace and adjusting duties or routines at work may help you feel more confident and in control.

The level and type of workplace accommodations will be different for everyone. They might include:

  • Flexible work schedule - for example, starting later or finishing earlier to avoid traffic if travel is difficult. Or attending meetings from your desk rather than in person.
  • Reduced hours - your employer may offer you a part time work schedule or allow for scheduled breaks throughout the day to help you manage fatigue.
  • Adjusting duties - removing tasks that are difficult such as physically intense tasks or tasks with fine motor control. Reducing high stress tasks may also help with managing symptoms.
  • Improving accessibility - your employer may improve accessibility for you by providing things like a car park close to the building, handrails and automatic doors.
  • Remote work - working from home may reduce accessibility issues and help you manage fatigue better.
  • Time off for medical appointments - this may include counselling or therapy as well as doctors appointments.
  • Ergonomic equipment - making your work station more suitable such as having an ergonomic desk and chair with arm supports may assist with stiffness and mobility.
  • Assistive technologies - technologies such as speech recognition software, hands free phone and speech amplification may assist you to perform your job well.

Examples and solutions

Here are some examples of how workplace modifications could help someone with Parkinson's continue to work in their job:

  • An administration assistant finds it difficult to perform physically intense tasks such as lifting heavy boxes or operating technology that requires fine motor skills. Her employer agrees to restructure her job duties and rearrange the workstation so that she doesn't have to lift heavy items. The employer also sources a hands free phone and computer adaptations so that the administration assistant can operate the equipment with ease.
  • A business consultant finds it difficult to travel to and from work everyday because of mobility issues. Her employer agrees to let her work from home for part of the work week. When she does go into the office, a priority car park is provided to reduce the distance she needs to walk into the office. Instead of attending meetings in person, she joins in via video call from her work station.

Getting your workplace assessed

If you are struggling to keep up with the demands of your job but aren’t sure what will help, you can request a professional workplace assessment to help identify solutions.

APM can assist with workplace assessments and accessing funding to make changes that work for both you and your employer.

If you are worried about keeping your job or finding it hard to cope in the workplace, APM can provide ongoing workplace support to help you feel confident in your job at no cost to you or your employer. Get in touch today to find out more.

Woman with Parkinson's talking to colleague at new job at florist

Transferring your skills to a new role

If you cannot continue in your current role, you may be able to transfer your skills and knowledge to another role, sometimes within the same company.

Here are some example scenarios of how a person could transfer their existing skills to a new role:

  • A man who works as a tradesperson in a large company is finding it difficult to keep up with the physical demands of the job. His employer supports him to complete a training and assessment course at TAFE so that he can transition into a training role for new employees.
  • A beautician is finding it difficult to perform fine motor tasks and cope with the fast paced environment of the beauty salon. Her employer agrees to transition her into a part time managerial role where she can focus on scheduling and customer service tasks.
  • A salesperson can no longer keep up with the fast paced environment and physical demands of the job. He decides he would like to work from home to manage his symptoms better. His employer transitions him into a role writing for the company's blog and producing content that they can publish online.

Should you tell your employer you have Parkinson's?

Whether or not you disclose to your employer is highly dependent on your personal situation. You are not legally required to disclose unless there is an Occupational Health and Safety reason or if your symptoms affect your ability to do the core tasks of your job.

For some people, their symptoms do not currently affect their ability to do their job and they decide not to tell their employer for the time being.

Others choose to disclose with their employer and colleagues. This can be a relief for both the employer and employee, especially if symptoms are visible or affecting the work quality.

If you have a good relationship with your employer, you may find they are willing to support you with workplace adjustments and modifications to your job duties.

Each situation is different and it's important to think carefully about how, when and if you should tell your employer.

If you are unsure whether it's a good idea to disclose with your employer or are worried about your job security, you can discuss it with your employment consultant or seek further professional or legal advice.

Finding new jobs for people with Parkinson's

Some people see their Parkinson's diagnosis as an opportunity for a fresh start and decide to look for a new job or start a new career.

The skills and experience you gained in your previous jobs may help you secure employment in a new role. Depending on the type of job, you may need to undergo training or gain a qualification.

When it comes to employment, everyone's goals and needs are different. Talking with an employment consultant from APM can help you discover job opportunities and career pathways that are a good fit for you.

When looking for a new job think about:

  • Your interests, skills and experience - Can you use your skills and previous experience in a new role? Will you need to undergo further training and education?
  • Your limitations and challenges - Will your symptoms affect your ability to do the job? Think about adjustments and assistive technologies that might help you overcome the challenges.
  • Transport issues - How will you travel to and from the workplace? Will you need to live close to the place you work or is there the possibility of working from home?
  • Hours and work schedule - How many hours do you want to work? If maintaining a full time schedule is not possible, you may be able to find part time or flexible work opportunities. Will you need time off for medical appointments, therapy or support groups? You may prefer a job that has a flexible schedule.
  • Workplace environment - What type of workplace do you work best in? Consider the accessibility, stress levels, flexibility and physical demands of the workplace and any adjustment that may help you.

Need help finding a job or managing in the workplace? APM is here for you.

At APM, we've seen firsthand the benefits that having a job can bring to someone's life. It can boost your self esteem, give you a sense of purpose and help you connect with others in a meaningful way.

If you are living with Parkinson's and employment is important to you, we're here to help. We believe everyone has the right to experience the benefits of work in a safe and accessible workplace.

Whether you’re looking for jobs for people with Parkinson’s or need support to stay in your current role, APM can help.

If you are living with Parkinson's, you could be eligible for Disability Employment Services.

Disability Employment Services is a government funded program which helps people living with disability or a health condition find and stay in employment.

When you register with APM, we can help you with:

  • Finding suitable employment opportunities
  • Accessing training to make you more employable
  • Writing job applications, resumes and cover letters
  • Preparing for interviews
  • Workplace assessments for potential adjustments
  • Accessing workplace accommodations to help you feel confident at work

Register for Disability Employment Services with APM today and let's get started.