Diabetes is a frequent Cause of Long-term disability

Posted by Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan
May 09, 2019

Diabetes is among the leading causes of disability in Canada.  In its onset, early signs of diabetes may include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Changes in weight
  • Lack of energy and/or extreme fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Unusual thirst
  • Slow healing of cuts and bruises
  • Numbness or tingling in the feet and hands
  • Blurred vision

Anyone who experiences some of these symptoms should talk to their doctor, as symptoms and negative effects can worsen without treatment.  However, persons with Type 2 diabetes don’t necessarily exhibit any of these symptoms, which can delay diagnosis and needed treatment.

When diabetes is unmanaged by lifestyle changes and proper treatment, sufferers are at risk of suffering very serious symptoms and complications, such as:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Blindness
  • Kidney failure
  • Impotence
  • Amputation

Amputation may be necessary if the diabetes results in peripheral artery disease (PAD), which is characterized by narrowing of the blood vessels and reduced blood flow in the legs and feet.  Diabetes sufferers may also develop peripheral neuropathy or nerve damage.

In addition to the above serious complications, diabetes can also lead to the following conditions:

  • Celiac disease is a digestive disorder often affecting persons suffering from type 1 diabetes
  • Anxiety and depression are more common among diabetes sufferers
  • Metabolism problems

Type 1 Diabetes

With Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce any insulin. Insulin helps our body control the amount of glucose/sugar in our blood and without insulin, sugar builds up in our blood rather than being used for energy.  Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and is not preventable, and persons with this condition must receive insulin therapy to help manage their diabetes.  Insulin therapy involves receiving insulin injections, via a pump, pen or syringe, and the number, dosage and timing of injections can differ between patients.

Type 2 Diabetes

With type 2 diabetes, either the pancreas doesn’t produce sufficient insulin, or the body doesn’t properly use the insulin that’s being made.  And, this causes glucose/sugar to build up in the person’s blood rather than being used for energy.  Unlike type 1 diabetes, persons suffering from type 2 diabetes may be able to control their condition by making strict lifestyle choices such as a change in diet. 

The following important steps help persons suffering from diabetes keep their blood sugar level in the appropriate range and thus live a healthy and longer life:

  • Regular monitoring of blood sugar levels using a blood glucose meter
  • Eating healthy meals and snacks
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Regular physical activity
  • Effectively managing stress
  • Consistent sleep schedule
  • If prescribed by your doctor, taking insulin (and other medications, if prescribed).

Diabetes and the Workplace

Persons with well-managed diabetes should not be discriminated against in the workplace.  When diabetes can be, and is, controlled, there is little or no impact on a person’s ability to do their job effectively and persons with diabetes can participate in active lives which were not possible before the recent strides in diabetes care.  For effective management of diabetes symptoms, diabetes sufferers should not feel forced to hide their condition from their employers, as it’s crucial that insulin injections and blood glucose testing are completed on time and as recommended by their doctor, and also important that meals are not missed.

Human rights legislation requires employers to accommodate employees who have diabetes, unless they can show that doing so would result in undue hardship for the company.  A reasonable and fair accommodation might include altering the employee’s work schedule to allow regular breaks to take medication, eat and monitor blood glucose levels.  

Hypoglycemia is a real danger for persons with diabetes who are being treated with insulin. Hypoglycemia may result when insulin takes away too much glucose from the blood.  This is most often caused when the person takes too much medication, over exerts themselves, misses meals, or consumes alcohol.

Diabetes has a different effect on different individuals, and each person will have a unique diabetes management plan.  Yet, there are some forms of work which can make it difficult to properly manage diabetes and maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Shift work, for example, can create problems in terms of the timing of insulin injections, meals and glucose testing, particularly when the shifts frequently change.  Also, the interruptions in sleep schedule can worsen symptoms for some diabetes sufferers.

Persons who are not able to regulate their blood sugar levels may experience complications such as vision problems, skin and feet sores, digestive issues, and other conditions noted above  And, these symptoms and complications may prevent someone from being physically able to perform their normal job functions.  Persons who have a physically demanding or active job are most likely to be affected and accordingly, may be a good candidate for long-term disability benefits.

Unmanaged diabetes and unregulated blood sugar (very high or very low) can cause cognitive problems such as difficulty thinking and concentrating, speech problems, and difficulty in making decisions.  Persons who suffer from these symptoms should not be performing jobs which impact the safety of others, such as professional drivers (including bus drivers and truck drivers) and airline pilots. Many, if not most, jobs demand clear thinking; consequently, persons with cognitive dysfunction due to unmanaged diabetes may not be able to perform many of the essential tasks of their employment.

If you suffer from diabetes symptoms which interfere with your ability to perform your job, or if your job worsens your health, you may be entitled to seek long-term disability benefits under your disability plan or the Canada Pension Plan.  To learn about your options, or if your disability benefits were denied, talk to a knowledgeable disability lawyer at Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan and allow us to help you get the benefits you deserve.

Disclaimer: Our blog is intended to inform our existing and prospective clients about topics pertinent to their lives. While our goal is to provide accurate and factual information, this in no way should be taken as legal advice or applied to specific cases. It is in your best interest to contact a licenced and practising lawyer for legal representation, as matters of the law are often complicated and cannot be fully assessed without knowing all of the details of a case.