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Managing employees with Parkinson’s disease

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

With some 1.5 million Americans affected by Parkinson’s disease and about 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year, chances are you may manage someone with this motor system disorder during your career. About a third of people with Parkinson’s remain active in the work­force, but don’t be surprised if the sufferer stays silent. Many employees prefer secrecy to avoid pity or ques­tions about performance ability.

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s is a chronic, progressive, neurological disease that results from the loss of cells that produce dopamine—a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain. Loss of dopamine causes critical nerve cells in the brain to fire out of control, leaving the person unable to control his move­ments in a regular manner.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s include trembling, stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination. At first, symptoms can be subtle and occur gradually. As they become more pronounced, the sufferer may have difficulty walk­ing, talking or completing tasks. While there is no cure, medication may mask some symptoms.

Helping someone with Parkinson’s

For a team member who is open about the condition, privately discuss needs and possible solutions. Mobil­ity issues may be aided by a reserved parking space or a cubicle closer to the washroom. Key guards, armrests or speech recognition software may enhance com­puter use.

If you notice symptoms but have not been informed of a diagnosis, focus on subtle ways to make things easier. If the person has difficulty speaking, opt mainly for email correspondence. Avoid assigning tasks that necessitate standing for a long period or getting up and down to greet people. Little things such as having a stool nearby for copy machine users to rest on or a cart available to transport material to meetings on another floor can make a big difference. Most of all, focus on what the person can do instead of what he or she can’t do. It will go a long way toward helping him or her feel like a valuable mem­ber of the staff.

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