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Researchers find risk factors for unemployment with multiple sclerosis vary by age

October 23, 2019

East Hanover, NJ. October 23, 2019. A recent study by Kessler Foundation researchers explored numerous factors that contribute to the high unemployment rate among individuals of different ages with multiple sclerosis (MS). This is the first investigation to consider age within the context of disease- and person-specific factors affecting employment in MS. The article, "Unemployment in multiple sclerosis across the ages: How factors of unemployment differ among the decades of life," was epublished on September 14, 2019 by the Journal of Health Psychology.

The authors are Lauren Strober, PhD, of Kessler Foundation, and Renee M. Callanan, a former intern at the Foundation. Link to abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31522567

Multiple sclerosis affects people of working age; therefore, the impact on employment is substantial. Because of the complexities of MS and the diverse population affected, a holistic approach is needed when examining the factors contributing to the high rates of unemployment in the MS population, estimated at 40 to 80%.

The cross-sectional study included 221 employed individuals with multiple sclerosis, aged 20 to 64, grouped by those considering reducing work hours or leaving the workplace, called the "considering group" (27%), and those expressing no intent to change their work status, the "staying group" (73%). Each group was subdivided into four age groups: 30-59 (overall sample), 30-39, 40-49, and 50-59; the group of 20-29 year olds was excluded due to small sample size. The "considering group" comprised an increasing percentage of each successive decade: 30-39 (22%), 40-49 (26%), and 50-59 (32%).

In addition to age, gender, education and disease duration, researchers assessed disease factors, including fatigue, sleep disorders, and pain; psychological factors including anxiety and depression; and person-specific factors, including personality and coping style.

For all participants, there was no difference with regard to demographic and disease variables between the "considering" and "staying" groups, with the exception of more participants with progressive MS in the "considering group." Factors that differentiated those considering and those staying were consistent with previous findings and included disease symptoms (fatigue, pain), psychological factors (depression, anxiety), and person-specific factors (self-efficacy, personality, and coping). However, looking at each decade revealed differences in reasons for considering leaving the workforce. Disease symptoms were cited more among 30-39 year olds (pain) and 50-59 year olds (fatigue), while psychological reasons predominated among 40-49 year olds.

"Our findings suggest that physical symptoms and how the individual manages them are greater issues for the youngest and oldest decades, while psychological issues predominate among the middle-aged," said Dr. Strober, senior research scientist in the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research. "Professionals who counsel individuals with MS about important decisions such as leaving the workforce, need to be aware of the influence of age on employment decisions," stressed Dr. Strober, "within the context of biological and psychosocial factors."
-end-
Funding: National Institutes of Health Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research (K23HD069494).

About MS Research at Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation's cognitive rehabilitation research in MS is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, National MS Society, Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers, the Patterson Trust, Biogen Idec, Hearst Foundations, the International Progressive MS Alliance, and Kessler Foundation. Under the leadership of John DeLuca, PhD, senior VP for Research & Training, and Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of the Centers for Neuropsychology, Neuroscience and Traumatic Brain Injury Research, scientists have made important contributions to the knowledge of cognitive decline in MS and developed new treatments. Clinical studies span new learning, memory, executive function, attention and processing speed, emotional processing, employment, cognitive fatigue, and in the interaction of cognitive and physical deficits. Research tools include innovative applications of neuroimaging, mobile imaging technologies, eye tracking, robotics, and virtual reality. Neuroimaging studies are conducted at the research-dedicated Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation. Kessler researchers and clinicians have faculty appointments in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; selected staff are affiliated faculty with NJIT.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit KesslerFoundation.org.

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For more information, or to interview an expert,

contact: Carolann Murphy, 973.324.8382, CMurphy@KesslerFoundation.org.
Rob Gerth, 973.323.3675; RGerth@KesslerFoundation.org

Kessler Foundation

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