Dementia at work: Do you know how to respond?


It’s estimated that 8 per cent of people with dementia are under 65. Though currently not a huge number, it will only grow as Australia’s workforce ages. What do you need to know about dementia at work?

While our working population continues to diversify, there’s no doubt about it – a large chunk of Australia’s workforce is ageing. It’s a perfect storm and raises questions about how we handle dementia at work, says Brendan Moore, general manager – policy, research and information for Alzheimer’s Australia NSW.

More opportunities for older workers, people choosing to delay retirement or semi-retire, and the ‘baby boomer bulge’ are part of larger labour trends across the entire western world. This talent pool is a boon for employers in many ways – there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience there. But it also means workplaces will be faced with increasing instances of cognitive decline dementia at work.

September is Dementia Awareness Month, and a perfect time for employers to review how to proceed should an employee disclose a diagnosis – for themselves or a loved one.

Behaviours associated with dementia might not be obvious at first, says Moore. The gradual nature of the illness means that declines in performance and wellbeing aren’t immediately associated with dementia. Often employees leave the workplace for health reasons, only to receive a dementia diagnosis later.

In this instance, there isn’t much an employer can do retroactively. However, workplaces can serve as support systems for people who disclose a diagnosis while still employed.

Dementia is classified as a disability, which means it falls under the same anti-discrimination protections as age or ethnicity. Workplaces should be prepared to make reasonable adjustments for employees with dementia.

This includes reallocation of duties, providing flexible working options or allowing a ‘buddy’ to help the employee when necessary.

“Employees with dementia are generally aware of their limitations as time goes on,” Moore says. “Employers might not be, which is why having a clear and up-to-date dementia at work policy can help dispel any confusion.”

For example, if a police officer is diagnosed with dementia, over time their ability to safely handle firearms or drive a car is diminished. Having a plan in place to transition the employee to a new role where these are no longer issues is a priority.

Dementia is a concern that’s top-of-mind for others as well. Employees with caring responsibilities will benefit from a comprehensive dementia at work policy, as a parent, partner or loved one might receive a diagnosis and require extra care. In this instance, providing carer’s leave of flexible work arrangements is beneficial for all parties.

The best dementia at work policies focus on the outcomes rather than the diagnosis, says Moore. When done well, workplaces can provide a point of stability in what is otherwise a time of uncertainty.

“Work gives people purpose and meaning,” Moore says. “For someone with dementia or affected by a diagnosis, work has a strong role to play in maintaining quality of life.”

 

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Carmel Ross
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Carmel Ross

It is important to work out how to support and retain employees diagnosed with dementia for as long as possible and to support those with carer responsibilities. However the harder task is to find sensitive yet effective ways to respond when it begins to become apparent that an employee might have a dementia-related condition but they have not been diagnosed, nor do they see that there’s a problem developing. Despite Moore’s comment that people with a dementia diagnosis are aware of their limitations, this is not always the case, and their lack of awareness can set up frustration for all… Read more »

Roberta Lohan
Guest
Roberta Lohan

One solution which may assist an employer to determine if an employee is fit to continue in their role is to request the employee undertake a ‘fit for work’ assessment. The can be conducted by an Independent Medical Examiner and will clarify the situation. In the case of dementia or Alzheimer’s early detection and intervention is crucial. Where there is reasonable cause for concern this is allowable under law as the onus is on the employer to ensure and provide a safe workplace.

Mary Tehan
Guest
Mary Tehan

Although this topic is work-centred there is a need to consider how the impact of an unforeseen diagnosis will have on others at work … and also the employees’ family. EAP programs and/or independent support services may also need to be involved in this transitional situation as it’s trajectory is not a ‘cure’ trajectory; rather it is a ‘chronic illness’ trajectory. People who know both the healthcare/wellbeing/chronic illness systems AND employer/employee needs are the ‘go to’ experts here. Part of best practice early detection and intervention demands that this knowledge to be part of any OHS/HR strategy.

More on HRM

Dementia at work: Do you know how to respond?


It’s estimated that 8 per cent of people with dementia are under 65. Though currently not a huge number, it will only grow as Australia’s workforce ages. What do you need to know about dementia at work?

While our working population continues to diversify, there’s no doubt about it – a large chunk of Australia’s workforce is ageing. It’s a perfect storm and raises questions about how we handle dementia at work, says Brendan Moore, general manager – policy, research and information for Alzheimer’s Australia NSW.

More opportunities for older workers, people choosing to delay retirement or semi-retire, and the ‘baby boomer bulge’ are part of larger labour trends across the entire western world. This talent pool is a boon for employers in many ways – there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience there. But it also means workplaces will be faced with increasing instances of cognitive decline dementia at work.

September is Dementia Awareness Month, and a perfect time for employers to review how to proceed should an employee disclose a diagnosis – for themselves or a loved one.

Behaviours associated with dementia might not be obvious at first, says Moore. The gradual nature of the illness means that declines in performance and wellbeing aren’t immediately associated with dementia. Often employees leave the workplace for health reasons, only to receive a dementia diagnosis later.

In this instance, there isn’t much an employer can do retroactively. However, workplaces can serve as support systems for people who disclose a diagnosis while still employed.

Dementia is classified as a disability, which means it falls under the same anti-discrimination protections as age or ethnicity. Workplaces should be prepared to make reasonable adjustments for employees with dementia.

This includes reallocation of duties, providing flexible working options or allowing a ‘buddy’ to help the employee when necessary.

“Employees with dementia are generally aware of their limitations as time goes on,” Moore says. “Employers might not be, which is why having a clear and up-to-date dementia at work policy can help dispel any confusion.”

For example, if a police officer is diagnosed with dementia, over time their ability to safely handle firearms or drive a car is diminished. Having a plan in place to transition the employee to a new role where these are no longer issues is a priority.

Dementia is a concern that’s top-of-mind for others as well. Employees with caring responsibilities will benefit from a comprehensive dementia at work policy, as a parent, partner or loved one might receive a diagnosis and require extra care. In this instance, providing carer’s leave of flexible work arrangements is beneficial for all parties.

The best dementia at work policies focus on the outcomes rather than the diagnosis, says Moore. When done well, workplaces can provide a point of stability in what is otherwise a time of uncertainty.

“Work gives people purpose and meaning,” Moore says. “For someone with dementia or affected by a diagnosis, work has a strong role to play in maintaining quality of life.”

 

6
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Carmel Ross
Guest
Carmel Ross

It is important to work out how to support and retain employees diagnosed with dementia for as long as possible and to support those with carer responsibilities. However the harder task is to find sensitive yet effective ways to respond when it begins to become apparent that an employee might have a dementia-related condition but they have not been diagnosed, nor do they see that there’s a problem developing. Despite Moore’s comment that people with a dementia diagnosis are aware of their limitations, this is not always the case, and their lack of awareness can set up frustration for all… Read more »

Roberta Lohan
Guest
Roberta Lohan

One solution which may assist an employer to determine if an employee is fit to continue in their role is to request the employee undertake a ‘fit for work’ assessment. The can be conducted by an Independent Medical Examiner and will clarify the situation. In the case of dementia or Alzheimer’s early detection and intervention is crucial. Where there is reasonable cause for concern this is allowable under law as the onus is on the employer to ensure and provide a safe workplace.

Mary Tehan
Guest
Mary Tehan

Although this topic is work-centred there is a need to consider how the impact of an unforeseen diagnosis will have on others at work … and also the employees’ family. EAP programs and/or independent support services may also need to be involved in this transitional situation as it’s trajectory is not a ‘cure’ trajectory; rather it is a ‘chronic illness’ trajectory. People who know both the healthcare/wellbeing/chronic illness systems AND employer/employee needs are the ‘go to’ experts here. Part of best practice early detection and intervention demands that this knowledge to be part of any OHS/HR strategy.

More on HRM