By Karen Lee Richards*
Many people with chronic Lyme disease are able to continue working either full or part time. Others find that their symptoms are so severe, continuing to work is impossible. When that happens, it may be necessary to consider applying for disability.
Whether you’re struggling to continue working or trying to navigate the disability maze, the following sections offer guidance and tips to help you along your journey.
Working with Lyme Disease
A 2014 survey of more than 3,000 chronic Lyme disease patients, conducted by LymeDisease.org, revealed that over 40% were currently unable to work because of LD. While working when you have chronic LD is not easy, it does offer some important benefits if you’re able to do it. In addition to the obvious financial benefits, working can contribute to feelings of self-worth, provide opportunities for social interaction, offer intellectual challenges and even help distract your mind from your illness for periods of time as you focus on your job tasks.
In most cases, there are modifications that can be made to your job, schedule or workspace that can improve your ability to continue working and increase your productivity. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), most employers are obligated to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities.
The following list of possible modifications for people with Lyme disease is provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network. You can use this list when discussing suggested modifications with your employer.
Accommodation ideas for individuals with Lyme disease:
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- Pain: Lyme disease may result in chronic pain and arthritic-type symptoms. For additional information on accommodations for chronic pain and arthritis, visit SOAR’s Accommodation Ideas for Arthritis and JAN’s publication titled Accommodating People with Chronic Pain.
- Fatigue: Fatigue is often associated with Lyme disease. Possible solutions include a reduced work schedule, periodic rest breaks, a transfer to a less physically demanding job, and the flexible use of leave time. Individuals may also benefit from implementing ergonomic principles. For additional information on ergonomics, visit: Ergonomics in the Workplace: A Resource Guide. For more information on chronic fatigue, visit SOAR’s Accommodation Ideas for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
- Stress Management: Individuals who have had Lyme disease often benefit from reduction or elimination of stress. This may involve reducing stress in the individual’s current position, transfer to a less stressful position, a flexible schedule to recover from any effects caused by workplace stress, and work at home to avoid workplace stress. Access to employee assistance programs (EAP) may also be helpful.
- Managing Depression: Because some individuals with Lyme disease have short or long-term depression, developing workplace strategies to deal with work problems before they arise, providing sensitivity training to coworkers, allowing telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for support, and easy access to information on counseling and employee assistance programs are beneficial.
- Skin Sensitivity: Individuals with Lyme disease may experience skin sensitivity around the tick bite. Individuals may need protective clothing, to avoid certain hazardous chemicals, and reassignment if their previous jobs involved working outside.
- Headache: Migraine headaches may be one long-term effect of Lyme disease. For additional information on accommodations for migraine headaches, visit SOAR’s Accommodation Ideas for Individuals with Migraine Headaches.
- Dealing with loss of vision: An individual with Lyme disease may have vision limitations. Visit JAN’s SOAR for Vision Impairments for accommodation ideas.
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free, confidential technical assistance about job accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). See the JAN website for contact information.
* Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE, the very first full-color, glossy magazine devoted to FM and other invisible illnesses. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, and then for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network.
“Survey Results Published! Chronic Lyme Patients Suffer Poor Quality of Life and High Rates of Disability and Unemployment.” LymeDisease.org. March 27, 2014.
Last Updated: 5/5/15
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