Employer Factsheet – Parkinson’s Disease
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder. It is caused by the loss of brain cells that produce a
chemical neurotransmitter called dopamine, resulting in low levels of the chemical in the brain.
Dopamine is involved in making other parts of the brain that coordinate movement work properly.
It is the low levels of dopamine that result in the symptoms of Parkinson’s
These symptoms can become worse over time and include
Shaking (muscle tremor)
Stiffness (rigidity), which makes limbs feel difficult to move.
Slow movement often with a characteristic slow shuffling gait pattern
Mental health problems - including depression, loss of memory, difficulty reasoning
Bowel and bladder problems such as constipation and the need to urinate often
Most people develop the condition at around the age of 65, but around one in 12 people with
Parkinson's disease start having symptoms before the age of 40 (known as early-onset Parkinson's
disease).The symptoms and progression of Parkinson's disease are different for each person.
How might Parkinson’s affect an individual in the Workplace?
One of the first questions a newly-diagnosed person will likely ask is, “How long will I be able to
Work?” This question is especially important to early-onset patients, who may be many years from
retirement age and who are often raising families and facing numerous financial responsibilities.
There is no simple standard answer as the illness varies from person to person. Factors worth
considering are the nature and physical demands of a job, the individual’s response to medication
and the rate of disease progression.
Some typical symptoms which may be problematic in and around the workplace include
Difficulty with balance and co-ordination
Handwriting becoming smaller and harder to read
Cognitive issues such as a degree of memory loss
Extreme tiredness especially if driving long distances
It is important to recognize that a diagnosis of Parkinson’s however does not need to mean the end
of a career and with the appropriate level of support many continue to work for many years or
even decades following diagnosis
What can be done to help an employee with Parkinson’s?
The first and most simple step an employer can take when dealing with an employee with
Parkinson’s is to sit down and listen to them in order to best understand how they might be helped
in the workplace by looking at their particular needs. As people can be affected differently it is
important to take an individual approach which also takes into account the nature of the particular
As a guideline however it may be necessary to consider some of the following measures
Establishing contact with an Occupational Therapist trained in providing work related advice
Provision of adaptive IT e.g. voice recognition software, speech amplifier or a trackball
Providing an ergonomic workstation possibly located in a quiet part of the office
Considering more flexible working hours or whether part time arrangements are practical
If there are cognitive issues involved providing schedule planners and written instructions
Allowing additional breaks
Considering whether some home based work is a possibility and helping to facilitate this
Possible adjustments to facilities e.g. ramps or handrails
Providing a reader or interpreter to help in the workplace
Many of the adjustments listed above involve inexpensive minor changes. The cost of providing
such adjustments both in terms of money and time is often far less than that of recruiting a new
By discussing needs and requirements openly and honestly, there may well be a number of
effective, practical and simple adjustments that cause little or no disruption or expense. Such
measures can be highly successful both in keeping employees with Parkinson’s disease in the
workplace and demonstrating a commitment to equal opportunities in the workplace which can
appeal to both customers and staff alike.