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Osteoarthritis patients at risk of unemployment

Business MeetingA research team from the University of Calgary and Statistics Canada found that people living with osteoarthritis (OA) have almost twice the risk of losing work time due to illness or disability as those without OA. Furthermore, the researchers found that people with OA are three times as likely to become unemployed.

Combining the National Population Health Survey, the researchers selected 659 people with OA, matched them with 2,144 non-OA individuals on the basis of age and sex, and compared their reported work time loss from 2000 to 2010. Work time loss was 90% higher and unemployment tripled due to illness or disability among the OA patients after adjusting for sociodemographic, health and work-related status.

Osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis. It is estimated to affect more than 3,200,000 Canadians-about 1 in 10. The disease is the leading cause of chronic pain and loss of mobility in Canada and is associated strongly with diminished productivity and increased utilization of healthcare resources. Disease onset usually occurs during the working years.

“The association between OA and work loss is a relatively new area of research,” said Behnam Sharif, the lead researcher and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary.

He added: “Work time loss will become an increasingly important problem among employed populations in western countries, including Canada, for several reasons. First, the prevalence of OA is growing due to aging populations and increasing obesity rates. In addition, decades of low birth rates mean western countries are facing the prospect of having to keep older people in the workforce.”

Dr. Sharif and his team concluded that work time loss was 25% higher among men than among women with OA – this may be because there is a higher rate of physically demanding jobs among men.

The study also found that lower income earners were more likely to stop working. “This may suggest poorer support for lower income groups in terms of illness and disability,” said Dr. Deborah Marshall, a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, and director of Health Technology Assessment and Research for Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute (ABJHI).

“Within a generation, there will be a new diagnosis of OA every 60 seconds in Canada. We need to intensify efforts in prevention and care in response to the growing burden of this disease on individuals, public healthcare and the economy,” added Christopher Smith, ABJHI’s Chief Operating Officer.

“Being unable to work due to arthritis places a terrible strain on a person, and on their family and the community,” said Janet Yale, president and CEO of The Arthritis Society. “There is a lot that employers and employees can do to help reduce the risk of developing OA, and help those living with OA to remain productive, and it starts with getting educated about the disease.”

The study’s results raise alarms over the lack of work loss prevention programs for people with OA – the fastest growing cause of disability worldwide. The results of the study are published in Rheumatology.

Arthritis Consumer Experts, and its Canada’s Best Workplaces for Employees Living with Arthritis program, urge Canadian employers to look for ways to promote patient-focused prevention, treatment and management of chronic disease as part of a health and wellness program for employees.