With more older workers staying in the labour market, the challenge of accommodating chronic diseases will only grow, a researcher told Benefits Canada’s Chronic Disease at Work conference on Thursday in Toronto.

In 1997, there were 1.8 million Canadian workers aged 50 to 64 and 86,500 workers aged 65 and older, Peter Smith, a senior scientist at the Institute for Work & Health, noted at Thursday’s event at the Marriott Bloor Yorkville hotel in downtown Toronto. By 2016, those numbers had increased to 4.5 million and 500,000, respectively.

“Older age is associated with an increased likelihood of not being able to work due to health conditions,” said Smith.

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When it comes to employees who rate their health as fair or poor, more either don’t know when they’ll retire or expect to do so after age 65 than those who assess their health as good, very good or excellent. While the less healthy employees are also less likely to expect good retirement incomes, Smith suggested they may work longer out of financial necessity.

Yet chronic disease is a factor in reduced participation in the workforce, as seen in trends around leaves of absence, coming in late or leaving early and presenteeism. After a diagnosis with a chronic condition, some employees will leave the workforce entirely and others will continue working as before, Smith pointed out. Very few will see a change in their workplace conditions.

Smith also noted people with multiple chronic conditions are particularly vulnerable. Employees with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, for example, are significantly more likely to not work due to health reasons than those with only one of those conditions.

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It’s important to find out whether workplace accommodations for chronic diseases must be specific to the condition, Smith said. A universal approach, he noted, could affect disclosure requirements and help employees who don’t have a full-blown chronic condition but are at risk of developing one.

“Can we create environments where all workers — whether they have a chronic condition or not — can stay active in the labour market?” Smith said.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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