Many of us are aware of dementia in older generations however many of us may be less familiar with early onset dementia. An increasing number of people between the ages of 30-65 are affected by the condition. It is estimated that there are 42,325 people in the UK who have been diagnosed with early onset dementia.
A common misconception is that those with dementia are unable to work, however this is not always the case. Different types of dementia present different symptoms which are not always associated with memory loss, such as difficulties with speech, balance, mobility and changes in mood and behaviour. This can create challenges for employers, as one of our clients recently encountered with a long-standing employee who had no diagnosis of this but was displaying some of the symptoms. How do you manage employees with this and what are your legal obligations as an employer?
Dementia can qualify as a disability in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, if it has a substantial, adverse and long-term effect on the employee’s normal day to day activities. This then triggers the obligation on an employer to make reasonable adjustments to help.
In terms of reasonable adjustments this can be in respect of their role or working arrangements. Some individuals may find flexible working has a positive impact, while others may need a review of their duties or have assistance with memory aids, voice recognition software, or soundproofing to create a quiet workspace.
Putting support in place, not just for those who have been diagnosed but also for employees who have caring responsibilities, has benefits for employers too. A dementia-friendly workplace embracing flexible working for example, means businesses can retain valuable staff, improve the morale of the workforce and contribute to a more positive and inclusive culture that will attract higher quality candidates.
Interaction with each other
Dementia can cause a progressive decline in the ability to communicate. Making changes to how we interact can help, and even small changes can minimise the impact of the condition. For example, maintaining eye contact is key, as is listening carefully and checking to ensure conversations have been understood.
Staff living with dementia should stick to a regular pattern of work and ideally employers should avoid last-minute meetings that deviate from this schedule as this can cause stress exacerbating the symptoms. Meetings should also be held in a dementia-friendly space that is quiet and comfortable.
Everyone’s experience of dementia is unique and the progression of the condition varies, so employers need to consult with staff before deciding on a support plan and obtain input from health professionals to assist them too.
Educating each other
Raising awareness and understanding the challenges of living with dementia is paramount to supporting staff with the condition. Some individuals may not want their colleagues to know, but others may find that this alleviates their worries and makes working-life much easier.
Training staff on its impact and how to support those living with the condition can help to increase awareness of dementia and ensure a better understanding from peers. It may also enable colleagues to be more tolerant in a situation which sometimes initially involves an employee who may have no knowledge or little awareness of their condition.
Get in touch
If you would like more information on dementia in the workplace and ways to support staff living with the condition, our employment law solicitors and HR consultants can provide expert and practical advice so you can get the best from your workforce.