It’s estimated that one in six women and one in 10 men age 55 and older will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Whether we know someone afflicted with the debilitating disease or a caregiver supporting a loved one, Alzheimer’s affects all aspects of life, including the workplace. Employers are encouraged to discuss early signs and risk factors of the disease with their employees and managers. Implementing wellness initiatives to understand and cope with the affects of Alzheimer’s in the workplace will help employees gain greater acceptance, and improved quality of life.
Early detection is important
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. Although there isn’t a cure, early detection can slow the progression, and improve an individual’s lifestyle. The disease attacks brain cells causing them to break down and die, eventually affecting an individual’s memory, ability to perform tasks, relationships, and personality.
Below are some of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s:
• Daily life is disrupted by memory loss
• Challenges in solving problems or planning
• Difficulty with everyday tasks
• Confusion with time and place
• Problems understanding visual images or spatial relationships
• Problems in speaking and writing
• Misplacing items and unable to retrace steps
• Decreased or poor judgment
• Withdrawal from work and social activities
• Changes in mood or personality
The factors below will place individuals at higher risk of developing the disease:
• Age – The likelihood of developing the disease doubles roughly every five years after age 65. The risk increases almost 50 percent after age 85.
• Family history – Individuals with a parent, sibling or child with Alzheimer’s are more likely to develop the disease. The risk increases if more than one relative has the disease.
• Genetics – Studies show that inherited gene and protein mutations in APOE-e4, APP, PS-1, and PS-2 lead to development of the disease.
Researchers do agree that a healthy lifestyle, an active brain, and management of health conditions can decrease an individual’s chance of developing the disease. Individuals with heart and blood vessel conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high cholesterol have an overall greater risk without proper maintenance of their conditions.
Workplace affected by Alzheimer’s
Older workers delaying retirement may mean many employers will have to deal with future Alzheimer’s cases in the workplace. Afflicted employees may miss important deadlines, exhibit poor judgment or personality change. This can result in team conflicts, incomplete projects, and customer service issues without proper awareness of the disease.
It is crucial for employers to recognize symptoms of the disease so they can support employees, and avoid legal liability for improper dismissal. As with other types of disabilities, employers are liable for providing reasonable accommodations to Alzheimer’s patients. Depending on the employee’s job function, it may mean providing employees with reminder tools or breaking down complicated tasks until the employee can no longer function in the role.
Include Alzheimer’s education in your wellness program
Educating your employees on Alzheimer’s will be an important step for the future of your company and workforce. HR professionals are encouraged to implement the initiatives below to ensure greater acceptance and support:
• Conduct information sessions on Alzheimer’s disease – Educate your employees about the disease, including symptoms and risk factors.
• Train managers to spot early signs, and how to confront employees – Be sure to remind managers to confront employees in a caring, non-threatening way.
• Work with managers on developing action plan – Discuss action plans with the supervisor and employee, and any reasonable accommodations, if necessary. Remind the supervisor to document all discussions.
• Provide support system for afflicted employees – Contact your health provider or EAP about any Alzheimer support they may offer. Alzheimer’s New Zealand is also a great tool for more information on facts and current treatments.
The bottom line
Alzheimer’s is a progressive and fatal disease that affects all levels of life, including the workplace. With an increase in older workers, it is critical for every employer to inform their workforce about the early symptoms and risk factors of Alzheimer’s. Awareness and support will provide a better lifestyle for employees coping with the disease, and a better work environment for the entire staff.