April 24, 2014 | News | Living with MS

Employment a key to better life quality

A new survey of older people in the U.S. living with multiple sclerosis has found that staying employed is a key factor in maintaining a sense of physical well-being (Buhse and colleagues. Int J MS Care 2014;16:10-19).

The survey was conducted at four MS centres in New York, and a total of 211 people participated. The average age of the participants was 66 years, two-thirds were married, and 72% were retired. On average, people had been living with MS for 20 years, and an equal proportion had either relapsing-remitting MS or progressive MS. Their average level of disability was moderate (EDSS score of 5.4). The most common MS medications they were using were an injectable interferon (36%) or Copaxone (23%). As you’d expect with an older group, many had other medical conditions, such as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure or arthritis. About one-third said they suffered from depression, although depressive symptoms were generally mild.

When questioned about the factors that improved physical quality of life, the most important factor identified was being employed. Curiously enough, the other factor that improved a person’s sense of physical well-being was marital status – being widowed rather than married or single – which may say something about older people’s ability to cope with adversity.

Other studies have also found that remaining employed is important for maintaining a person’s quality of life (Patti and colleagues. Mult Scler 2007;13:783-791). Employment appears to be especially important in the first few years after being diagnosed with MS, providing a boost to a person’s sense of both physical and mental well-being (Krokavcova and colleagues. Int J Rehabil Res 2012;35:40-47).

While an individual’s ability to keep working will be affected by disabilities, the development of a disability doesn’t necessarily mean that a person can’t keep a job, or that their overall quality of life will suffer. People are resilient and can adapt, learning to cope with changing circumstances. Some studies have found that people with MS – especially older women – are very good at “psychologically buffering” the daily challenges of living with MS (Miller & Dishon. Qual Life Res 2006;15:259-271).

The survey authors concluded that people should make every effort to remain employed for as long as possible. So it’s important for people with MS to have regular check-ups (not just for their MS) to maintain their physical and mental health, and to act promptly to manage any problems that are detected.

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