An increasing number of baby boomers are working late in their career or working past the typical retirement age of 65 has left some industries aging workforce issues that need to be addressed. This includes important issues like health care and accessibility.
Maintaining cognitive ability is another age-related health issue that has become more prevalent in recent years. This includes things like the early onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. For companies with older workers, being able to recognize the signs of cognitive impairment can help provide the individual with proper support, as well as manage risks. Especially if the individual holds a key position.
Understanding Dementia And Cognitive Decline
Dementia is more likely to affect someone over the age of 65, and the risk continues to increase with age. It is meant to be used as a broad term that covers several different forms of cognitive decline.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most well-known forms of dementia and tends to have a profound impact on the individual’s memory and quality of life. Vascular dementia is also somewhat common in older individuals, and it is often an aftereffect of a stroke. However, these are not the only forms of dementia. Conditions like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Lewy bodies dementia, Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease can all strike indiscriminately.
Recognizing Symptoms Of Dementia
It can be difficult to recognize the early symptoms of dementia in a co worker or employee. Symptoms tend to manifest gradually over time. Problems completing routine tasks at work tend to be the first thing noticed by others. Other symptoms of dementia might include:
Difficulty performing familiar tasks
Misplacing common items
Difficulties thinking and problems solving
Losing track of time and place
Forgetting new information
Asking coworkers to repeat information
Changes in mood and behavior
Changes in personality
As dementia progresses the individual might increasing have trouble completing routine tasks. They might also struggle to recall numbers and directions or get lost on their way to the office.
Impaired decision making can also be a gradually worsening issue. As dementia advances the individual might take longer and longer to come to the correct decision or rush into making a poor decision.
Individuals struggling with the early to middle stages of dementia might also start to struggle to select the right words during conversations. This might include trouble digesting new information during meetings.
Dementia sufferers also tend to struggle to deal with stress or feeling frustrated as their symptoms start to affect their quality of life. In time, this can lead to noticeable mood changes as well as displaying anger, suspicion, anxiety, and depression.
What Should I Do If I Notice Signs Of Dementia In A Coworker?
Dementia in a colleague, or employee isn’t something you should attempt to handle on your own. It’s important to keep in mind that for some people there is a stigma attached to dementia, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. If you have legitimate concerns that a coworker or colleague is struggling with dementia, you should discretely express your concerns with a manager or the company’s human resources department.
What Can Human Resources Do To Help?
Human resources staff need to be aware that dementia in the workplace is an increasingly common problem. It’s important to keep in mind that employees may remain in their roles with cognitive deficits so long as it doesn’t significantly interfere with their work capacity, workplace safety or their general productivity.
Yet as dementia progresses it can lead to significant health and safety issues in the workplace. An individual who forgets common safety protocols can be at significant risk of harming themselves and others. At the same time, someone in an executive position like an accountant or financial officer might start to make poor decisions or misfile documents which could place the company’s financial security at risk.
A growing body of research indicates that the workplace environment and job type can be significant factors in how dementia and cognitive decline affect an individual. Being able to adapt to provide them with a positive and supportive environment can help the individual remain productive during the early stages.
Sensitivity and awareness training can help employees to better recognize and properly respond to a colleague who has been displaying signs of cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer’s.
If an employee comes to you with concerns over a coworker displaying signs of dementia there are some basic measures to consider. It might be necessary to sensitively discuss the deterioration of their performance with the affected individual. This might also include encouraging them to see a physician or helping them understand what is covered in their benefits package.
If they are indeed diagnosed with some form of dementia, you should consult with the individual to see if there are ways to revise their duties, while also limiting health and safety issues. Management should also be consulted to make sure they are aware of the issue, and to see if there are things they can do to help.
How Can Management Help An Employee Dealing With The Early Stages Of Dementia
Managers and other executive level employees need to be prepared to offer accommodations for an employee who is struggling with the early onset of dementia. To do this, there are a few important questions to ask such as:
What sort of checks and balances can we implement to help the individual remain productive?
What are some potential stressors and triggers that can be addressed?
What are the signs that the individual is struggling with a particular duty?
What can be done to help manage and limit potential errors and safety issues?
What are the signs that the individual can no longer adequately perform their duties?
In the case of an employee who can still perform the duties at an acceptable level, there might be a few things that can be done to help them remain productive. This could include simple things like checking in with a supervisor at the same time each day. It might also help to assign them to work in a team environment where other employees can help the individual maximize their ability. It might also be possible to make a lateral move to a less sensitive, yet still productive position in the company.
It’s important for supervisors to let their staff feel that they can come to them with any concerns. While also keeping in mind that the individual’s privacy is also an important factor. Many individuals suffer silently with dementia for years.
With an increasing aging workforce, mental health issues like cognitive decline and the early onset of dementia are more likely to be an issue. Making sure that employees and human resources staff are prepared to identify and aid in finding effective solutions, will go a long way toward limiting workplace risks. It can also help the individual to maintain their quality of life.