Working - advice for employers

Enabling people to carry on working

Many people with young onset dementia are in the midst of their careers when they start experiencing symptoms.  Performing duties at work may become increasingly more difficult; however, a person may want to continue working or have to work out of financial need.

The Equality Act of 2010 states that an employer cannot make someone redundant because of a disability, including dementia.  This means that the employer must make accommodations in the workplace, which could include things like allowing extra time to meet deadlines, having more flexible hours, or allowing the person to use aids and equipment that might help them continue to perform their duties. 

Find out the best ways you can support your employee

Discuss your employee’s condition with them and / or their doctor (if they give permission for you to do so), 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 is important that both the employer and work colleagues are willing to help and support those with young onset dementia so that they may continue to work for as long as possible.  Occupational therapists and psychologists can also help by assessing the person’s capabilities and assessing the demands of your workplace.  Your employee may need additional support with emotional issues.  It is common to feel down or anxious when going through these changes, adjusting to new roles at work, and coping with stress.

Potential workplace accommodations for people with cognitive impairments

Some employers find it difficult to think of ways in which they can assist employees with dementia and cognitive impairment.  The table below outlines some potential workplace accommodations based on various cognitive impairments.  The most common cognitive impairments in those with dementia are short-term memory, reduced speed, and attention / distractibility.  

Cognitive impairment

     Potential workplace solution

Short-term memory

  • Present information through multiple modes eg. visually and verbally.  For example, instead of simply telling your employee what to do, also give them a note that states the instructions.
  • Allow use of memory aids.  For example, encourage the use of checklists, notes, and voice recorders.
  • Repeat instructions and demonstrate tasks multiple times if required.

Reduced speed / fatigue

  • Give the employee extra time to meet deadlines.
  • Allow them to take more breaks as needed.
  • Allow flexible hours.

Attention / distractibility

  • Highlight important information with the use of colours and illustrations.
  • Allow the employee to work in a less distracting office or area.
  • Clear the desk surface of only the things that are essential to performing the task.
  • Reduce extraneous noises in the workplace, modify lighting as needed.

Sequencing / planning

  • Colour code or number job duties to assist with organisation and structure. 
  • Provide models or samples of completed work so that the employee can reference it as he/she works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you employ someone who is supporting a person with dementia, you may find this publication from Carers UK useful.  Click here.

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.

- Sarah Jaehnert, M.S, is a Doctoral Student from the Pacific University (Oregon) School of Professional Psychology 


[i] Table:  Sachs, P. R., & Redd, C. A.  (1993).  The Americans with Disabilities Act and individuals with neurological impairments.  Rehabilitation Pyschology, 38(2), 87-101.

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