- Employers are legally required to make reasonable workplace adjustments where possible for employees impacted by dementia to the point that it satisfies the disability definition.
- Openly discussing dementia will enable employees to feel more able to disclose diagnoses or issues without fear of repercussions.
- Employers should offer training for managers and staff on how to support someone with dementia in the workplace.
The Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 offer protection for employees with disabilities in the workplace and ensure that employers cannot treat them less favourably because of this. If the impact of dementia on an employee is such that it satisfies the disability definition, therefore, employers have a legal duty to make reasonable workplace adjustments where possible to help those with dementia do their job.
What is considered a reasonable adjustment will depend on the type of job, the size of the employer and the cost.
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Examples of reasonable adjustments could include a change in work schedule, working from home, flexible hours, a reduction in workload or task complexity, a change in job duties, a quiet and private workspace with reduced noise levels, and clear signage and instructions, says Victoria Lyons, clinical lead digital service and dementia at work at Dementia UK.
“Training to understand dementia and how to support someone with the condition in the workplace is key, as well as open communication so they feel comfortable talking about their condition and asking for help, and access to information about dementia, support groups and financial assistance,” she says.
Employers should talk to employee with dementia about what they need rather than offering a one-size-fits-all approach. To get a comprehensive view of what they would benefit from, it is a good idea to involve their GP, says Kayleigh Frost, head of clinical at Health Assured.
“As the disease progresses, needs will change, so employers should check in regularly and readjust as needed,” she says. “Task management is crucial to ensuring that an employee does not become stressed or overwhelmed, so they can dedicate all their attention and focus to one area.”
Diagnosis and early onset support
Following a diagnosis or the emergence of early onset symptoms, support should be tailored to meet employees’ varying needs, as some may not require changes and feel more secure with familiarity.
If an organisation openly talks about dementia, employees will feel more able to disclose diagnoses and symptoms without fear of repercussions. Lyons recommends offering space and mechanisms through welfare meetings to safely discuss issues and support, such as providing a list of tasks for the day or week and regular check-ins.
“Consider how technology can help them to stay in work and contribute, such as reminders on Outlook,” she says. “Some firms have provided the diagnosed person with an assistant to help them manage their role.”
Seeking input from medical professionals and occupational health, and consulting fully with the employee are also good forms of support.
“Flexibility to allow the employee to attend medical appointments wherever possible, as well as signposting to an employee assistance programme, are also options,” Frost says.
Services and networks
The nature of dementia means that affected individuals need specialist support to advise, guide, signpost, inform and reassure, adjusting as situations change.
Christine Husbands, commercial director at RedArc, says: “A trusted professional to be an expert and non-judgemental listening ear, such as an experienced nurse, can make a huge difference to employees. Access to this can be available as part of an employee benefits package.”
Masterclasses and bespoke sessions based around an organisation’s needs are available through dementia charities that offer one-to-one consultations, bookable specialist dementia nurse appointments, dementia chat bots and content for intranets.
A common symptom of dementia is memory loss. Memory aids can help combat this as they allow the employee to refer to a checklist or recording to keep themselves in check, says Frost.
“Small voice recorders can be purchased to help monitor admin,” she explains. “Software may prove confusing to someone with dementia, so employers should go back to basics with simplified calendars, easy-to-read text and clear, concise methods of communication.”
Assigning a dementia lead as a port of call to discuss any worries is an easy way to offer support outside of external service providers. Many employers also have carer or family network teams to ensure affected staff can remain in work.
Group risk support
Occupational health is a valuable resource that can help employers understand what, if any, adaptations can be made to best support the employee. Dementia is an insured illness under critical illness policies, so if an individual was insured before diagnosis they would receive a lump sum pay-out. This could be used for private treatment or cover for lost earnings during sickness.
David Williams, head of group risk at Towergate Health and Protection, says: “Group income protection policies also provide support such as vocational rehab and other suitable pre-absence support options. Post-absence, group income protection would pay the claim, even if absence was only part-time, provided that the hours were a result of the illness.”
Employers should always ensure that, alongside any support they offer employees with dementia, their workforce is educated on what it is and how it might manifest. While external and internal assistance is useful, a solid understanding of the condition is the best place to start.