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Accommodating Alzheimer’s in the Workplace

If there is a serious concern that an employee might have Alzheimer’s, here are some approaches for managers and HR professionals to consider.

November 24, 2008
Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Health and Wellness
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Because of the stigma associated with Alz­heimer’s disease, and the potential Americans with Disabilities Act or termination issues that could be involved, opening up a discussion with an employee who is displaying symptoms can be difficult. But if there is a serious concern that an employee might have Alzheimer’s, here are some approaches for managers and HR professionals to consider, according to experts, including employees who had diagnoses of early-onset Alzheimer’s or other dementia while they were working:

u Take the employee aside and ask if he has noticed he’s having problems with memory or planning. If the employee has indeed noticed such problems, the disease’s stigma—and fear of losing a job—might make him refuse to discuss the matter. In that case, a more formal performance review may be necessary. But in many instances, the employee might not be aware that his performance at work has deteriorated.

u Be specific about what you’ve observed. Ask if similar problems are happening at home. With the employee’s permission, get feedback from the family.

u Urge the employee to get a medical evaluation from a specialist in memory loss.

u If the diagnosis is early-onset Alzheimer’s or other dementia, determine whether the person’s condition presents safety problems for him- or herself or others. Depending on the job, some employees may need to stop work immediately; others will be able to continue working.

u Strategize with the employee on accommodations that might be made. Those might include meeting reminders, to-do lists, assistance from a co-worker to complete a particular task, or reassignment of some duties.

u Talk to the employee’s immediate co-workers about the accommodations that they make. Explain they should be prepared to repeatedly answer the same questions from the afflicted co-worker. Writing down the answers to such questions may be a simple solution.

u Remember that dementia is a medical issue, not a disciplinary one.

u As the disease progresses, the employee will eventually have to step down. But if the work life of a valued employee can be extended, the organization, the individual and the family may all benefit.

Workforce Management, November 17, 2008, p. 26 -- Subscribe Now!

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