With Mental Health Awareness very much in the public mind, we’re going to look at the rare, yet very real, issue of early-onset (pre-senile) dementia – how to spot it among your employees and how to respond.
First – a couple of definitions and statistics. Early-onset dementia is a deterioration of mental capacity that is first diagnosed below the age of 65. According to research carried out by the Alzheimer’s Society*, approximately 42,000 people in the UK have the diagnosis. That’s 5.2% of the total number of people living with dementia.
Be prepared to respond
So, UK-wide, that’s a pretty low statistic. Nonetheless, it’s a very real one. Whereas the chances of one of your employees receiving this diagnosis are small, it’s still vital to be aware of the possibility. Also, you need to be prepared to respond to this distressing condition.
People with early-onset dementia may start experiencing symptoms in the midst of their careers. They may well find that performing duties at work becomes increasingly difficult. However, they may wish to continue working, either for their self-esteem, out of financial need – or both.
The Equality Act of 2010 states that any disability, including dementia, is not a valid reason to issue a redundancy notice. This means that, if this happens in your Practice, you are obliged by law to do all you reasonably can to accommodate the employee. This could include allowing extra time to meet deadlines, having more flexible hours, or allowing the person to use aids and equipment that could help them to perform their duties.
How can you support your employee?
Discuss your employee’s condition with them and/or their doctor (provided they’ve given permission), so that you can support them in the most effective way. You and your employee can then work together to decide how to make adjustments to their responsibilities.
Their doctor or consultant will have assessed their cognitive abilities through a variety of different tasks that measure things like memory, attention, language abilities, visual-spatial abilities, and problem-solving skills. Knowing a person’s cognitive strengths and difficulties will help you to decide what types of tasks your employee can do well at, and which tasks you may need them to step away from or approach differently.
It’s vital that you and your employee’s colleagues prepare to support and help those with dementia so that they may continue to work for as long as possible. Occupational therapists and psychologists can also help by assessing both your employee’s capabilities and the demands of your workplace. Your employee may need additional support with emotional issues. The changes at work, as well as their diagnosis, are likely to cause them to feel anxious or down.
Here are just two of the most common cognitive impairments caused by dementia and how you might address them –
Short-term memory loss
Present information through multiple modes eg. visually and verbally. For example, instead of just telling your employee what to do, give them a note that states the instructions. Be prepared also to demonstrate tasks.
Reduced speed and fatigue
Give your employee more time to meet deadlines and encourage them to take as many breaks as they need. Be flexible with hours.
Here to help
Although the chances of one of your Practice employees having to live with early-onset dementia are low, it pays to be prepared. The Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP) has published a guide for employers who would like to be more dementia friendly, to download it click here .
If you’re in any further doubt as to how best to respond to this kind of situation and how to offer support, we’d be delighted to help.
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*Source: Prince, M et al (2014) Dementia UK: Update Second Edition report produced by King’s College London and the London School of Economics for the Alzheimer’s Society.