It was heartwarming to read the story of Yvonne Salomon. She was supported by Sainsburys, to continue working for nearly five years after her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease As the skills of this bookkeeper changed, her managers met regularly with Mrs Salomon and her husband for welfare updates. Over time they made informed changes to her working hours and accommodated her changing needs by training her to take up different, less demanding roles within the company. Continued employment gave Mrs Salomon a sense of purpose and preserved her sense of self worth. What a wonderful example of excellent practice from an employer towards a staff member with dementia!
The majority of people with dementia no longer have a job. Those with young onset dementia are the group most likely to be in employment. Indeed an individual’s problems fulfilling their working role may have been the catalyst for seeking a diagnosis. There is also a growing number of people above retirement age who work through necessity or choice in paid and voluntary capacities. Given that the incidence of dementia increases with age this age group are more likely to see their employment affected by dementia.
Under UK law (Equality Act 2010) dementia is named specifically as a long term condition for which an employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments.’ What these might be will depend on the individual concerned. They could be changes to a person’s role, their working hours or the environment. What constitutes a reasonable adjustment will also be affected by the nature and size of the business where the person is employed. A large supermarket chain like Sainsburys is better financially resourced and has a much broader range of employee roles than a small business and this is recognised by the legislation and case law.
Sometimes small inexpensive changes can be all that might be needed to allow a person with dementia to continue to make a valuable contribution to their workplace for longer. Seek specialist support to identify what is required on an ongoing basis as the person’s illness progresses. Be aware too that grants are available through the Assess to Work scheme to allow the person to do their job. This might meet the costs of specialist equipment, adaptations to the working environment or pay the wages of a support worker.
Staying in employment has many intrinsic and extrinsic benefits. These include providing structure to the day, maintaining self worth, allowing them to retain existing skills through habitual use and of course generating an income. Whether a person will be able to continue in their current job after a diagnosis of dementia will be a highly individual decision dependent on the specific difficulties that they are facing and the demands of their particular working environment. For some continuing their job after diagnosis may not be possible. For them it is important that alternative occupations that will provide them with meaning are sought. Benefits and pension income may partially or wholly replace lost income. For many people working will still be a viable option providing adjustments are made and adequate support is put in place. Even if employment in an existing role is no longer possible there may still be scope for changing job or working in a voluntary capacity.