Older Workers Are Struggling With A New Disability: Long Covid

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By Liz Seegert, next avenue

When Patricia Anderson got COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic, she was lucky in a sense. Despite her body temperature dropping to 93 degrees, she never went to the hospital. In March 2020, many patients were told not to seek emergency care unless they had a fever of 104 degrees or higher. Covid-19 was a newly emerging threat and at that time there were only a few avenues of treatment.

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While the worst symptoms eventually faded, Anderson never really got better. He is one of an estimated 7 to 23 million Americans with chronic COVID-19 — a condition that can include symptoms such as respiratory distress, cough, “brain fog,” fatigue and malaise that last 12 days after the initial infection. Lasts for a week or more.

These ongoing symptoms, and the resulting harm, are a long-term challenge as both employers and employees navigate an ever-changing virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in five Covid survivors under the age of 65 experienced at least one event that could be related to a previous COVID-19 infection. Among those 65 and older, the rate was one in four. Their data also shows that currently people aged 50 to 59 have nearly three times as long as those aged 80 or older.

Experts believe that due to the large proportion being fully vaccinated and promoted, there may be greater resistance in older cohorts; Youth groups may not be as protected. Post-Covid conditions are more common in people who have had severe illness, but anyone who has been infected can experience these conditions, even those with mild or asymptomatic COVID-19.

One of the challenges in diagnosing COVID in the long run is that there is no diagnostic test and symptoms can be caused by other underlying health problems as well.

However, an analysis of the non-profit Solve ME/CFS Initiative, which supports research into the diagnosis, treatment and cure of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), chronic COVID and other post-infection diseases, has It is estimated that between 10% and 30% of people infected with chronic COVID-19 are affected; and more than half the patients experience lethargic symptoms Six months after the initial infection.

Millions of people may have this disease for life.

According to the organization, fatigue is the most common symptom (80%), followed by post-exercise malaise (72%) and brain fog (58%).

Working through virus symptoms

Despite his battle with the ongoing effects of the virus, Anderson, an emerging technology specialist at the University of Michigan, never really stopped working. “I was worried about not having enough sick leave,” she said.

Her son has autism and needs to be there as his caregiver. However, persistent fatigue and the inability to walk more than a handful of steps before resting also took a toll on his mental health. “I was a very physically active person, I was a high achiever, I went everywhere.”

Another major challenge was the ongoing brain fog, which Anderson said finally started coming out in December 2021, after struggling with simple tasks like completing complete sentences for nearly 20 months.

“When it was the worst, I didn’t know how bad it was. I wasn’t able to understand that much,” she said. “One scary time was when I couldn’t remember my son’s name.”

Anderson has been fortunate to be able to work from home full time during the pandemic; She is able to take breaks and rest when extreme fatigue or cognitive issues interfere with her work. But the University of Michigan now wants to bring employees back to their offices.

And it’s tough for the 65-year-old, who has blogged about her exams for more than two years.

Anderson has recovered enough to take the bus to work one day a week. Her immediate supervisors have been very understanding, and have made accommodations, such as allowing her to take breaks or lie down.

“It’s not that brain fog doesn’t happen anymore. But I’ve learned things I need to do, like whether I feel tired or not, and I’ve learned warning signs,” she explained. But he’s not yet ready to return in person full time.

employers are flying blind

Anderson knows he is more fortunate than many other employees. The nature of her job still allows her to work from home and the management is willing to work with her. Many people don’t have those options.

At the same time, employers are trying to understand what they need to do to care for individuals with long-term COVID, whether it’s benefits programs, disability management, paid leave, or short-term disability, a senior vice president of disability said. , according to Brian Bass and one of the largest third-party administrators of employee benefits absenteeism management at Sedgwick Corporation.

“There are no standards, no protocols and people are really struggling to understand what they can and should do,” he said.

The number of persons with disabilities due to prolonged COVID could be potentially catastrophic for some industries. Bass said anywhere from seven to 14 million American workers can have symptoms so severe that they are going to be incapacitated from their jobs in some form.

define disability

Currently, individuals with long-term covid must be accommodated under the American Disabilities Act (ADA.)
) according to the Department of Health and Human Services, “if it substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

Additionally, guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC) reinforces that long Covid should be considered as a disability under ADA definitions: actual physical or mental impairment which substantially limit a major life activity; a history or record of an actual disability (such as cancer that is in remission); or regarded as an individual with a disability by the employer.

One caveat: not every impairment will constitute a disability under the ADA. The ADA uses a case-by-case approach to determine if an applicant or employee meets any one of the three above definitions of disability.

Despite very real disabilities, those with long Covid are not currently eligible to apply for Social Security Disability benefits (SSDI), which by definition requires someone to be unable to work in any occupation due to a condition that will last at least a year.

Helping Employers CopeThere are a lot of people who may not have been clinically diagnosed with Covid-19 but have long Covid symptoms, said Terri Rhodes, CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition.

The organization has established a think tank which includes medical experts, government officials and absence and disability management professionals to discuss the challenges to both employers and employees.

The goal is to educate employers and the insurance community about long Covid and provide some guidelines on how employers can accommodate workers and what laws they need to be aware of.

“We’re trying to make sure that employers don’t just get stuck into thinking that there has to be some definitive diagnosis, because a lot of times it doesn’t exist,” said Rhodes. “And that’s what a lot of us are struggling with.” She predicted this disease will result in a major shift in how disability is managed in the U.S.

In addition to managing workers like Anderson who have the ability to work remotely, employers must also learn to accommodate everyone from CEOs and CFOs who have lost some critical thinking and decision-making abilities to line workers who require frequent breaks for post-exercise malaise and fatigue.

In some ways, it’s similar to how an employer might accommodate a person with Parkinson’s disease or ALS, but may now be dealing with dozens, or even hundreds of people at a time.

“We have to think differently about how we’ve been providing accommodations, especially for individuals in manufacturing and service and retail environments.” said Bass. “How do we provide an inclusive environment for them, so that they can continue to be productive, continue to work, continue to contribute and do all of the things that we naturally want to do?”

A Link to Alzheimer’s

When book editor and writer Jane Isay, now 83, contracted a mild case of Covid in January 2021, brain fog was a constant companion. She had trouble writing more than a sentence or two at a time. It could take her a full week to write a one-page letter. “It was like I’d never written anything before,” she said. While her clients and colleagues were understanding, Isay felt she was letting them down.

Due to her age, many around her suspected the start of dementia. “I knew in my gut it wasn’t Alzheimer’s,” Isay said. “What I did know is that I wasn’t as sharp as I had been and that something was missing. I was very sad.”

Finally, in May, 2022, the fog began to lift. “I didn’t know what I had lost until I found it again,” she said. Isay is now back to writing and editing and is working on her next book, albeit a little more slowly than before.

A link between long Covid and Alzheimer’s disease is a real concern for employers, according to Bass. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found an overlap between Covid-19 and brain changes common in Alzheimer’s. Other studies have found similar results, raising questions about whether some long-Covid sufferers may be at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or other neurodegenerative diseases over time.

The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease was already projected to increase, due to the sheer size of the aging baby boom population. Now researchers are concerned that this number may skew much higher due to the…

Credit: www.forbes.com /

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