There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings around people with dementia – especially around what they are capable of doing.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month, so we asked Dementia Auckland to share with us whether people with dementia are able to continue working – and how we can all contribute towards a more inclusive and accepting environment for those affected.
Many may assume that a dementia diagnosis is cause for immediate resignation or retirement from the workforce, but with appropriate support and systems in place, many people in the early stages of dementia will be able to continue working. In fact, continuing to work for as long as it remains possible and sensible is recommended, since it’s a familiar way to keep the brain actively working.
The Human Rights Act 1993 protects those with disabilities or impairments – including dementia – from discrimination. As long as conversations take place with employers to ensure shared understanding, and to in turn implement changes to duties or reasonable adjustments to the working environment, a person with dementia who wants to continue working and is able to can certainly do so.
Things to be aware of
Some of the first things that may start to provide challenges in the workplace can feel small in the moment, but they do add up. People with dementia may find themselves having trouble concentrating and forgetting appointments or meetings. Task management can also prove difficult, as can communicating their thoughts to those around them. All of this can add up to a sharp drop in confidence, and uncertainty around decision making.
These sorts of challenges don’t need to be the end of someone’s working life. With some adjustments in place, and support from loved ones and those in the know at work, they are obstacles that can be handled in various ways.
Creating the best environment for success
There are many small but vitally useful adjustments that can be made to make life at work easier for people with dementia – and in turn, continue to allow them to be a valuable part of the workplace.
Distraction can be very difficult for people with dementia – so a working space could be rearranged to deal with this. Perhaps there’s a quieter area of the office to move to, or some soundproofing that can go up. Clear and consistent labels on files and storage is very useful – for everyone, really, but especially those living with dementia.
If flexible working or different hours is a possibility, that can be a valuable change. The individual with dementia might consistently have difficult mornings but be more on top of things by midday – or they might have their good days and bad days, and need some ability to work around those.
The workload or nature of work itself might sometimes present too much of a challenge, so role sharing or offloading some duties to another person can be wise. In some cases, it might be sensible to step into a different role that is more manageable – perhaps one with fewer client meetings, or more flexible deadlines.
Considering the type of dementia
The particular type of dementia that a person has can give some sense of whether or not continuing to work is going to be feasible.
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s – for many people, it’s synonymous with dementia. It also has clearly defined stages, going through from the early stage with mild symptoms through moderate Alzheimer’s and finally severe, or late stage Alzheimer’s. While people are still in that initial early stage, it’s certainly possible to function independently and continue working, depending on the nature and pressures of the job. Some people will also have successful experiences taking certain medications that can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s
For those with Lewy body dementia, it’s a bit harder to say what a person’s working future could be, as it can present in a few different ways and takes a less predictable course. Some people may be able to continue working for a time, but it’s all very dependent on the person in question. Vascular dementia is similarly varied in its presentation, and should be taken on a case by case basis.
Frontotemporal dementia is a tricky one – it more often affects relatively young people (those under 65), so they are more likely to still be in the workforce when symptoms start occurring. However, it’s also tends to have a more rapid rate of decline than other types of dementia, so it’s not necessarily a guarantee that continued work will be possible.
Continuing to work with dementia is entirely possible, with the right support and understanding. Let’s all help people to live well – and work well – with dementia.
About Dementia Auckland
Dementia Auckland is a not for profit organisation dedicated to providing dementia support services and to inspiring those living with dementia to make the most of life.
Dementia Auckland provides a wide range of services and support across the greater Auckland region, including home visits, telephone consultations, support groups, socialisation activities, and carer education.