Diabetes Can Shorten Working Life, Force Early Retirement, Cause Financial Stress

“As a T2 diagnosed around 2.5 years ago, I am feeling increasingly exhausted to the point of not being able to sleep (partially due to my work), and have all kinds of other T2 symptoms which combined with tiredness and stress are really getting me down, and making me so depressed… I feel that the stress is sending sugar levels up… Yes I sound a wreck…but this is really beginning to get to me… I just feel I can hardly manage with the diabetes, work and enforced H.E. study for the next year just to keep the job, by the time I graduate I will be ready to retire, or fit to drop – one or the other.”

–       An anguished 60-year-old British woman diagnosed with type 2 diabetes writing in a discussion forum

A UK survey carried out by Cardiff University researchers last year about the effect of diabetes on their lives, almost 74% of patients reported that diabetes influenced their decisions regarding major life changing events. Among the respondents, 40% said that diabetes had influenced their decision to take early retirement and 22% said it had influenced a decision to change profession. Respondents also said that diabetes had influenced decisions to change lifestyle (22%) or have children (14%).

Now a new study provides more evidence that people with diabetes may leave the workforce sooner than employees without diabetes – suggesting that the common disease could be taking a large economic toll, according to French researchers.

The findings, reported in the journal Diabetes Care, echo those from a U.S. study that was reported in 2004. In that study, adults with diabetes were less likely to be working in their 50s than similar adults without the disease. And researchers estimated that between 1992 and 2000, diabetes accounted for $4.4 billion in lost income due to earlier retirement and nearly $32 billion due to work disability.

The French study of more than 3,000 employees of France’s national gas and electric company found that diabetic workers were more likely to retire or go on disability in their 50s than workers of the same age who had similar jobs but no diabetes. “Diabetes can impact individuals’ ability to maintain employment through different pathways,” said senior researcher Dr. Rosemary Dray-Spira, of the French national research institute INSERM, told Reuters Health

For example, diabetes complications such as vision loss and nerve damage can lead to mobility problems or amputations that make it difficult or impossible for people to do their jobs. Diabetes is also often linked with medical conditions, like heart disease or kidney disease. Then there is obesity, one of the major risk factors for developing diabetes. Dray-Spira’s team found that obesity seemed to explain much of the higher risk of work disability among people with diabetes.

These latest findings, Dray-Spira’s team writes, underscore the point that diabetes “has major social and economic consequences for patients, employers, and society.” The results are based on data from a long-term health study of employees at the French national gas and electric company. Between 1989 and 2007, 506 workers developed diabetes.

Dray-Spira’s team compared each of those workers with five diabetes-free co-workers the same age and in the same job type. Overall, diabetics were less likely to still be working in their mid-50s. By age 55, 52 percent of workers with diabetes were still on the job, versus 66 percent of those without diabetes.

The gap narrowed by the time the workers were 60 years old, the official retirement age in France during the study period. At age 60, 10 percent of diabetic workers were still on the job, compared with 13 percent of their co-workers. In addition, by age 60, roughly five of every 100 diabetics were on disability, compared to roughly one of every 100 non-diabetics.

Dray-Spira noted that France has both a relatively young retirement age and a universal healthcare system. The impact of diabetes on retirement and disability could be greater, she said, in a country where people typically work longer and lack universal healthcare – like the U.S. “The major implication of our results is that particular attention should be paid to help people with diabetes in maintaining employment,” Dray-Spira said.

Work life problems faced by diabetics extend even beyond retirement. Last year an Australian study published in The British Journal of Diabetes & Vascular Disease  noted: “Compared with those who are in full-time employment with no health condition, those who have retired early due to diabetes have significantly lower odds of owning any wealth (odds ratio 0.03, 95% confidence interval 0.00–0.30).

“Among those with any accumulated wealth, the value of this wealth is 90% less for people who are out of the labor force due to diabetes relative to those in full-time employment, after adjusting for age, sex and education (p=0.037). Retiring from the labor force early due to diabetes is likely to cause large financial stress in the future as not only have retired individuals lost an income stream from paid employment, but they also have little or no savings to draw upon.”

Sources: Reuters Health, Diabetes.co.uk, Diabetes Care

Related post: A job that fits

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