With at least 1 in 20 people diagnosed with dementia under age 65, the chance of developing the disease whilst of working age has become increasingly likely. This poses one of the greatest challenges for employing those dealing with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, or who have eldercare responsibilities, of any generation to date.
Dementia is a workplace issue
Dementia is the leading cause of death in England and Wales and is now one of the main catalysts of disability in later life. To help deal with this it’s important that employers support both those confronting a diagnosis whilst working, as well as those juggling work and dealing with caring responsibilities for a relative with the disease. Both scenarios can take their physical and emotional toll at work and at home.
By 2021, the number of people living with dementia in the UK is expected to rise to one million and countless more will be affected by the impact of the disease. An Alzheimer’s diagnosis is linked to factors associated with ageing, such as high blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, changes to cell structure or hormone levels and changes in the immune system. Evidence shows there are several things that can be done to help reduce the risk, and employers are in a good position to help - such as encouraging staff to stay active, quit smoking, cut down on alcohol consumption, eat a healthy diet and exercise their brain.
Employers can also offer regular health screenings to monitor vital statistics, such as BMI and blood pressure levels. These checks can be available as part of a standalone health screening programme, or a wider private medical insurance (PMI) policy, which can help staff make adjustments to their lifestyle, as well as have access to on-demand care. Early diagnosis also allows employers to provide support and seek specialist advice from related services, such as occupational health (OH), about how best to assist an individual and plan for the future.
Supporting the sandwich generation
With an ageing population and workforce, employees increasingly provide support to relatives living with dementia, and this can bring mounting emotional pressures. An individual combining work and care responsibilities can be running on adrenalin, which poses a risk to their own health if they do not receive appropriate health and wellbeing support from their employer to sustain this dual role.
Flexible support for dementia carers at work
It’s important to make support available, both emotional and practical, to help workers manage stress and build resilience, and many employers find that an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), accessible from home or elsewhere, ticks that box.
In the UK there are 670,000 unpaid carers of people with dementia. Taking care of someone with the illness can be overwhelming and upsetting, so employees caring for someone living with dementia also require flexibility and support, and an appreciation that the demands on them may increase as the disease progresses. Support needs to be offered to all staff equally, such as providing:
- Special arrangements for caring leave, working hours and patterns
- The option to work remotely, or other flexible working arrangements
- Access via technology to meetings and systems remotely
- Practical support to reduce stress and support an employee’s own wellbeing
- Recognition of carers in the workplace, such as allowing access to their mobile phone at all times to take important calls
- Signposting employees to external information and sources of help
Planning for the future
On top of the mental and physical challenges, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can also bring financial pressures. However, support can be made available to protect employees who cannot work due to illness in the form of group protection. This can also come with additional benefits such as emotional support for employees dealing with relatives diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or access to added-value services for those dealing with a diagnosis themselves, such as a specially trained counsellor or access to a second medical opinion.
It will become increasingly important for employers to support people who develop dementia while working, as well as employees caring for someone with dementia. A diagnosis can be a shock and needs to be supported, and the emotional and cumulative impact of caring for someone with dementia must not be under-estimated – it can be both physically and mentally exhausting. There is a critical implication here for employers, to support mental, physical and financial wellbeing of both those diagnosed and those caring.
Brett Hill, Distribution Director, Towergate Health & Protection