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12 Sep 2023
by Emily Foy

7 ways to support employees living with dementia

A dementia diagnosis should not mean the end of a career – and indeed people with the condition are legally protected in the workplace. Here’s what employees can do to help sufferers

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Historically, dementia has been regarded as a condition that only affects older people. However, with the retirement age rising and with more people working into their 60s and even 70s due to the cost-of-living crisis, dementia is increasingly having a greater impact on the working population.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (the general term for memory loss and impact on cognitive abilities which is serious enough to interfere with daily life), thought to represent around 60-80% of diagnoses, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The World Health Organization estimates that around 55 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Of those, around 5% will have early onset, with noticeable symptoms before the age of 65.

September is World Alzheimer’s month (with World Alzheimer’s Day on 21 September) and it’s worth looking at the signs and symptoms of early onset dementia and how businesses can support employees who may be dealing with a diagnosis.

A range of symptoms 

Early onset dementia can give rise to a variety of symptoms, many of which may be mistaken for other diagnoses, such as:

  • difficulties with co-ordination or balance
  • confusion
  • personality changes
  • difficulties with planning and problem solving

Although memory loss is one of the most well-publicised symptoms of dementia, it is actually less prevalent in those suffering from early onset dementia. Those diagnosed with early onset also often have serious concerns and fears about their ability to stay in work and maintain financial commitments (such as a mortgage or a family). However, if the correct support is received, early retirement on ill health grounds can often be avoided.

Don’t discriminate

It is important for employers to remember that dementia is classed as a disability, and therefore employees should not be discriminated against because of their condition. The Equality Act (2010) requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to any elements of the job which place a person with dementia at a disadvantage.

7 ways to support employees with a dementia diagnosis

For employers looking to improve their policies and provide greater means of support to employees grappling with a dementia diagnosis, below are some useful starting points.

1. Support. This can come in a variety of ways. It can be from a mentor or team leader, a dedicated HR representative or support of the business as a whole. Regular meetings with the employee will ensure they are receiving the support they need and any actions or follow ups recorded clearly for follow-up meetings.

2. Signposting. Do not overlook the support that can be provided externally, through professional associations, charities, or workplace benefits (private health insurance, counselling, employee assistance programmes, one-to-one concierge support etc) and ensure that managers and HR representatives know not only what is available but how employees can access that support.

3. Training. Ensure that the manner and style of presentation is accessible and offer alternatives, where possible (recorded sessions, alternative formats, etc). Look at allowing additional time or using tailored methods to suit the needs of the individual. Consider providing company training on dementia (perhaps as part of an onboarding or DEI policy) and make it clear that the employer is a dementia-friendly workplace.

4. Reassurance. A dementia diagnosis can be extremely difficult for those of working age. They may feel reluctant to be open about what they are experiencing, especially if in a remote or hybrid environment, where difficulties may be easier to mask. It is important to provide direct reassurance and an open and collegiate atmosphere where employees are encouraged to open and feel confident approaching managers and HR representatives about what they need to be able to thrive in the workplace.

5. Research and regulations. There is a plethora of useful resources available to help support employers, including practical advice on managing dementia in the workplace, how to make your workplace dementia friendly and employment and young onset dementia. Make sure that you make full use of these resources and that you understand any legal requirements in relation to adjustments that should be made.

6. Make adjustments. There is a wealth of adjustments that can enhance the working life of an employee with dementia and go a long way towards ensuring that they can remain in the workplace, these include: 

  • Re-organising the workspace (erecting visual barriers, limiting clutter, providing headphones) to minimise distractions and create a calm working area.
  • Using memory aids (notes, reminders, calendars, etc), a labelling system, voice recognition software or other assistive technology to help with organisation.
  • Adjusting the employee’s duties or transferring them to a role that they can carry out more easily.
  • Adapting the employee’s working hours – perhaps by a flexible working arrangement – to fit around symptoms, appointments, therapies or medications.
  • Taking advice from occupational health and assess any safety risks.

7. Consider others. It is not only those who are diagnosed with dementia who might need support. Consider whether colleagues may also welcome advice, training and support on living with dementia. They may have someone who is caring for a close friend or family member with the condition. Those carers may need support themselves to deal with the additional stressors and worries, so ensure that they are not overlooked – whether it be flexible working arrangements, carers’ or personal leave or just a little more understanding and support.

Young onset dementia may be relatively rare, but with global dementia set to triple by 2050, and the retirement age continuing to increase, it will increasingly affect employees in your workplace.

Providing help and support, not only for those who are diagnosed, but for their friends, family and carers, will not only enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of those employees, but also allow them to remain in the workplace longer.

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