Alzheimer’s and Employment

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

  • Expert Advice
Published on:
Senior woman working in supermarket.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s brings changes to all areas of one’s life – from how, where and with whom a person lives, to how he or she is cared for. Not frequently talked about, however, is how a person continues to work with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

The older adults I work with are often many years past active employment by the time I am called upon to assist as a care manager. For them and others in their later years, maintaining active employment usually does not enter into the conversation.

For one diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, or for someone working beyond a traditional retirement age, it can be a very important question.

Below are some options for a working individual who, faced with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, would like to continue employment for as long as possible. What options and resources are available to help one remain actively employed?

Can I Keep Working?

This question inevitably comes up, as well as “Should I tell my employer?” “Should I let my colleagues know?” “Can I keep up with my job?” Of course, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and related dementias vary from person to person, so the answers to these questions will vary with each person and the demands of their job. It is good to know, however, that there are laws and resources available to help a person with Alzheimer’s continue employment.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

First among all U.S. laws for those with a disability is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the 1990 federal civil rights law that aims to make American society more accessible for those with disabilities. Title I of the Act addresses employment. It requires that employers (of more than 15 employees) provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all aspects of employment.

What is a “Reasonable Accommodation?”

How would you proceed if you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and believe you could continue to work if you had some accommodations in your work setting?

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the U.S. Department of Labor, cites some general examples of reasonable accommodations, including “restructuring jobs, making work-sites and workstations accessible, modifying schedules, providing services such as interpreters, and modifying equipment and policies.”

For someone with Alzheimer’s, the options for accommodations are numerous, but some might include:

  • Incorporating reminders into their day – written or verbal
  • Dividing large tasks into many smaller tasks
  • Providing additional training when there are workplace changes
  • Keeping the workspace clutter free
  • Reducing the number of hours worked per day or week
  • Changing the time of day worked

Be Proactive with your Employer

While it might be tempting to wait until your employer or colleagues notice the changes in your work or productivity, it is recommended you take a proactive approach to informing your employer. You would want to do so before your job performance suffers, as any disciplinary actions taken about your work or productivity are placed permanently in your record. By informing your employer proactively, and ahead of any difficulties, disciplinary action would not be the appropriate step an employer would take.

Being proactive also sets a transparent tone, and can continue a productive working relationship with your employer.  Ultimately, it could mean a longer stay in your job.

Employees and Employers – Working Together

Alzheimer’s is very frequently in the news, with new information and findings. But not everyone has had a personal experience with Alzheimer’s. Your employer may need more info – both about Alzheimer’s in general, and then about how it is affecting you. Start this conversation early.

Employers should educate themselves on the federal law, as well as on the specific needs of an employee with Alzheimer’s. Ask your employee about his or her own specific needs.  Remember each case of Alzheimer’s is uniquely the individual’s, so they need you to focus on their specific job accommodation needs.

  • There are many aspects to consider when requesting accommodations at your job. The following information would be useful in educating yourself and helping you prepare your specific request:

    • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: the EEOC’s vision is “Justice and Equality in the Workplace.” They are the enforcing agency for Title I.
    • Job Accommodation Network (JAN): a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy that provides information about job accommodations, the ADA, and the employability of persons with disabilities.
      West Virginia University
      PO Box 6080
      Morgantown, WV 26506-6080

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

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