Alzheimer's in the workplace

August 16, 2023

Written by
Emily Foy

September marks World Alzheimer’s month and at Apiary we are taking the opportunity to look at how businesses can support employees who may be dealing with a diagnosis.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (the general term for memory loss and impact on cognitive abilities which is serious enough to interfere with daily life), thought to represent around 60-80% of diagnoses.  

The World Health Organisation estimates that around 55 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Of those, approximately 5% will have early onset dementia, with noticeable symptoms prior to the age of 65. Historically, dementia has been regarded as a condition that only affects older people. However, with the retirement age rising and with more people working into their 60s and even 70s due to the cost-of-living crisis, dementia is increasingly having a greater impact on the working population.

The misconception that dementia only affects the older population, and the lack of awareness about early onset dementia, can result in those of a working age being overlooked, not only when it comes to diagnosis, but also with the support that they require from their employer to continue to function and achieve in their career.  

September marks world Alzheimer’s month (with world Alzheimer’s day on 21 September) and at apiary we are taking the opportunity to look at the signs and symptoms of early onset dementia, and how businesses can support employees who may be dealing with a diagnosis.  

Early onset dementia can give rise to a variety of symptoms, many of which maybe mistaken for other diagnoses, such as:

* difficulties with co-ordination or balance
* confusion
* personality changes  
* difficulties with planning and problem solving

Although memory loss is one of the most well-publicised symptoms of dementia, it is actually less prevalent in those suffering from early onset dementia. Those diagnosed with early onset dementia also often have serious concerns and fears about their ability to stay in work and maintain financial commitments (such as a mortgage or a family). However, if the correct support is received, an early retirement on ill health grounds can often be avoided. 

The law

it is important for employers to remember that dementia is (in many countries and states) classed as a disability, and therefore employees should not be discriminated against because of their condition. In such circumstances, employers to avoid discrimination and make reasonable adjustments to ensure people with dementia and their carers are not disadvantaged in the workplace. 


for employers who are looking to improve their policies and provide greater means of support to employees grappling with a dementia diagnosis, below are some useful starting points.

1. Support - Support can come in a variety of ways. It can be from a mentor or team leader, a dedicated HR representative or support of the business as a whole. Regular meetings could be held with the employee to ensure that they are receiving the support that they need and any actions or follow ups recorded clearly for     follow up meetings.  

2. Signposting - Do not overlook the support that can be provided externally, through professional associations, charities, or workplace benefits (private health insurance, counselling, EAPs, one to one concierge support etc) and ensure that managers and HR representatives know not only what is available but how    employees can access that support.

3. Training - Ensure that the manner and style of presentation is accessible and offer alternatives, where possible (recorded sessions, alternative formats etc).  Look at allowing additional time or using tailored methods to suit the needs of the individual. Consider providing company training on dementia (perhaps as part of an onboarding or DEI policy) and make it clear that the employer is a dementia friendly workplace.  

4. Reassurance - A dementia diagnosis can be extremely difficult for those of working age.  They may feel reluctant to be open about what they are experiencing, especially if in a remote or hybrid environment, where difficulties may be easier to mask. It is important to provide direct reassurance and an open and collegiate atmosphere where employees are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work and feel confident approaching managers and HR representatives about what they need to be able to thrive in the workplace.  

5. Research and regulations - There is a plethora of useful resources available to help support employers, including practical advice on managing dementia in the     workplace [], how to make your workplace dementia friendly [] and employment and young onset dementia [].  Make sure that you make full use of these resources and that you understand any legal requirements in relation to adjustments that should be made.

6. Make adjustments - There are a wealth of adjustments that can be made to enhance the experience of an employee with dementia and go a long way towards ensuring that they can remain in the workplace, these include: -

* Re-organising a workspace (erecting visual barriers, limiting clutter, providing headphones) to minimise distractions and create a calm working area.
* Using memory aids (notes, reminders, calendars etc), a labelling system, voice recognition software or other assistive technology to help with organisation.
* Adjusting the employee’s duties or transferring them to a role that they can carry out more easily.
* Adapting the employee’s working hours – perhaps by a flexible working arrangement - to fit around symptoms, appointments, therapies or medications.
* Taking advice from occupational health and assess any safety risks.
* Working on the employee’s individual strengths, memories and habits.
* Helping the individual to plan and manage their day, week and routine.

7. Consider others - It is not only those who are diagnosed with dementia who might need support.  Consider whether colleagues may also welcome advice, training and support on living with dementia.  It may also not be an employee themselves who is grappling with a diagnosis, but someone who is caring for a close friend     or family member with the condition.  Those carers may need support themselves [] to deal with the additional stressors and worries, so ensure that they are not overlooked – whether it be flexible working arrangements, carers’ or personal leave or just a little more understanding and support.

Young onset dementia may be relatively rare, but with global dementia set to triple by 2050, and the retirement age continuing to increase, this is something that is increasingly going to affect employees in your workplace. Providing help and support, not only for those who are diagnosed, but for their friends, family and carers, will not only enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of those employees, but also allow them to remain in the workplace for longer.

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