People who are 65 or older are the common age group of people who suffer from dementia. However, anyone can suffer from the symptoms of dementia, starting as young as 20 years old (Frontotemporal dementia). This type of dementia is known as early onset dementia (showing symptoms of dementia prior to being 65 years old). In the United States, more than half a million people suffer from early onset dementia. This is the type of dementia which employers mostly observe in the workplace. When an employee experiences lapses in memory and reasoning, it is vital to find the root cause of the problem. According to Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, “A change from baseline ability such as decreased ability to perform one’s usual job tasks, is never normal”. If you notice an employee or coworker whose performance in their everyday tasks decline drastically, make sure that they receive a medical check-up to determine the cause. If they are diagnosed with early onset dementia, it is important for the employer to assist them with legal and financial affairs, and apply for Social Security Disability Insurance. Having dementia in the workplace can be difficult, but there are some steps you can take to ensure that everyone has a friendly and safe working environment.
The first thing that can be done to create a dementia friendly environment is to spread awareness. According to Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, “Including dementia in mental health awareness education in the workplace can help increase understanding of the stages of dementia, improve the ability to respond supportively and effectively, and help affected employees identify their own symptoms earlier”. With more awareness about dementia in the workplace, there is less of a chance that co workers or employers will misinterpret early signs of dementia as old age. Some signs to look out for include, loss of initiative, changes in mood and behavior, changes in personality, poor judgement, and difficulty performing familiar tasks. Looking out for each other is the best thing that we can do. Paying attention to fellow coworkers and supporting them make all the difference.
An employee with early onset dementia may have difficulty paying attention. The best way to handle this situation would be to limit distractions. Try having them use headphones to block out the extra noise and limit excess noises so the employee can focus on the task at hand. Helping the employee maintain a clean and organized work space will help them maintain focus. Also, having them do tasks that fit their personality and skill set will help them feel comfortable at the workplace. The less distractions there are, the easier it will be for the employee to focus on their work.
People with early onset dementia may also have difficulty learning new skills or remembering ones they already know. Using memory aids such as notes, calendars, to-do lists, and recording devices can help the employee remember what they have to do and stay on top of the task at hand. To help the employee learn new skills, providing simple written or recorded instructions go a long way. Checking in with the employee every couple of days will greatly improve work atmosphere and quality as well.
Providing an encouraging and supporting environment for the employee suffering from early onset dementia make a difference. Be supportive of the employee and be patient and understanding when they get frustrated or confused. Inform coworkers to be caring and supportive towards the employee, and make the employee feel comfortable. Talk to the employee and understand their concerns so that you can develop a structured and organized approach to their work life. That way, you can create a comfortable and supportive work environment for all.