It goes without saying that a progressive disease such as Multiple Sclerosis leads to increasing difficulty in finding and keeping a job. The acceleration of the disease’s pain index and cognitive atrophy clearly leads to impairment in one’s professional life — an issue that has been documented countless times anecdotally on MS blogs and in physician’s notes. However, Researchers at Kessler Foundation — a research consortium that makes unemployment research a priority in their ongoing efforts,” has recently published one of the first scientific studies on the correlation between Multiple Sclerosis and employment, which has in turn led to the creation of a new tool for physicians to ascertain future employment issues in their MS patients, and how to best mitigate those issues as they present themselves.
Kessler Foundation study authors Lauren Strober, PhD, Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, Nancy Moore, PhD, and John DeLuca, PhD utilized the measurement tools used in diagnosing and treating multiple sclerosis in order to formulate a new means of measuring employment status and impact of the disease on employment. To do this, they compared the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS), the Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite (MSFC), the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT), and the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) as an employment predictor, and found the SDMT the most effective in differentiating employed from unemployed individuals, as well as the specific symptomatic factors that play into employment status for those with MS. The article, “Unemployment in multiple sclerosis (MS): utility of the MS Functional Composite and cognitive testing,” was published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
Dr. Strober, senior research scientist on the study, stated that, “The population with MS comprises people of working age,” making this study very germane to the MS patient population. As a result, “. . . factors related to employment status are a major concern for individuals and clinicians.”
As part of the study, “the researchers studied 77 people with MS; 40 were employed and 37 were unemployed. To determine which factor(s) were predictive of employment status, they compared the two groups in regard to demographic factors, disease variables, MSFC, and cognitive performance. Differences were found in disease duration and progression, upper extremity function, processing speed, verbal learning and memory, and executive function. Analysis revealed the SDMT to be the only predictor of employment status, with an overall accuracy of 67%.”
Dr. Strober sees the use of the SDMT as the optimal tool for assisting physicians in helping their Multiple Sclerosis patients navigate potential obstacles in their future employment: “These findings suggest that clinical use of the SDMT may help identify those individuals who are at risk for unemployment,” she explained. “This would allow clinicians to advise them on strategies for maintaining employment.”