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.”