Handling an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis While Employed
Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease while still working poses some challenges. Generally, people don’t think that Alzheimer’s affects those under the age of retirement, but younger-onset Alzheimer’s can develop in people under 65 years old. In the United States alone, there are approximately 200,000 cases of younger-onset Alzheimer’s, and that impacts people who are active in the workforce.
Eventually, those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will have to stop working, but depending on the situation, those in the early stages may be able to continue their employment. If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s while employed, here are 5 things you can do to help:
- Consider When Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s Should Stop Working
- Make a Transition Plan to Exit the Workforce
- Learn About Available Benefits and Accommodations
- Have a Plan for When Working is No Longer an Option
- Be Positive and Encouraging to Your Loved One
When should someone with Alzheimer’s stop working? Having Alzheimer’s in the workplace poses challenges, but everyone who has been diagnosed is in a situation that is unique to them. Some people can continue their jobs for a period of time. Alzheimer’s inhibits a person’s ability to learn new information, but older memories, habits, and patterns remain until the disease advances. If your loved one’s current occupation is repetitive, like stocking shelves, they may be able to remain at their job longer than someone whose position requires a constant flow of new information, like a banker.
If your loved one holds a position where the well-being of others depends on their performance, they should consider retiring sooner for safety reasons. For example, occupations such as an airline pilot, bus driver, truck driver, surgeon, or nurse can cause serious injury or cost lives if not performed correctly. If your loved one wishes to continue working after being diagnosed, talk with their doctor regarding how present and future cognitive decline impacts their ability to keep working, and maintain regular checkups.
Depending on their occupation, your loved one may be able to function with Alzheimer’s in the workplace for some time. Your loved one should speak with their employer regarding their ability to function at their job. Depending on the situation, they might be able to keep their job or transition to a different position with less intense responsibilities.
For instance, consider a patient with younger-onset Alzheimer’s who drives a truck for a business. As driving abilities decline, maybe they could be assigned to something less dependent on judgment and physical prowess such as delivering internal mail or loading and unloading a truck. Being open with employers can allow your loved one to stay in their workplace longer and gives their employer the opportunity to accommodate their needs.
While your loved one is speaking to their employer, they should also ask human resources about their benefits. Some employers with Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) have elder care counseling that includes dementia. Using an EAP referral helps when making referrals to caregivers, benefits counseling, and other forms of assistance for your loved one.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are obligated by law to give Alzheimer’s patients “reasonable accommodations” to continue working. Since the ADA considers an individual to have a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity, not all Alzheimer’s patients will have a disability under the ADA. To learn more about the benefits your loved one might be eligible to receive, visit the Job Accommodation Network.
Ultimately, the time will come when a person with Alzheimer’s can no longer work. Most companies offer short-term disability benefits, and some even provide long-term health insurance benefits. Patients under age 65 may be able to keep their health insurance through COBRA coverage. Also, Alzheimer’s patients of any age may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare through the Compassionate Allowance Initiative.
While many Alzheimer’s patients prefer to continue working, as it provides a social outlet and purpose, it may become a source of embarrassment as they become unable to perform tasks as efficiently as before and colleagues begin to notice. Some prefer to retire on their own rather than wait for their peers to notice and potentially run the risk of getting fired, as that could mean a loss of benefits or difficulty going on work disability.
Everyone’s situation is different, and it’s better to start developing a plan of transition sooner rather than later. If your loved one is open about being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease to their employer and seeks the advice of their physician, they will give themselves more opportunities to possibly continue working, and they’ll have a better idea of when it’s best for them to transition out of the workforce.
Remember, leaving the workforce doesn’t mean sitting at home! Encourage your loved one to pursue hobbies, volunteer, and contribute in other ways. Live day by day and offer understanding if your loved one becomes sad, angry, or confused.
If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, in home care services can help your loved one by providing transportation and activities to keep them engaged. We can help enhance your loved one’s life by making sure they receive the services they need.