Supporting employees affected by dementia

With an ageing population, dementia care is set to become an increasing challenge for society over the coming years – and with the UK statutory retirement age rising, this challenge extends to employers.

A recent study by PMI Health Group found that nearly one in ten companies in the UK have already encountered employees with dementia – and more than a quarter have given staff time off to look after relatives with dementia.

Many people are continuing to work following a dementia diagnosis and the Alzheimer’s Society has called for every company in the UK to have a dementia policy to help both employees and their carers.

PMI Health Group’s mental health nurse outline six key steps to consider when introducing, or reviewing, these policies.

1/ Foster a supportive culture

Employees with dementia, and their carers, should have the opportunity to play their part in an inclusive workplace where they are made to feel valued.

A dementia-friendly working environment involves establishing a culture where staff feel they can talk about their health, along with the support they may require, without prejudice.

Improving companywide awareness of dementia and eradicating the stigma associated with the condition is an important part of this process and might involve arranging free awareness sessions. These can be provided by Dementia Friends, an Alzheimer’s Society initiative.

A commitment to becoming a dementia-friendly organization, if part of wider culture that supports and empowers staff, will also help employee recruitment and retention by building a company’s reputation as an employer of choice.

2/ Ensure good communication

Good communication is vital in supporting employees in the early stages of dementia.

Important steps have been outlined by the Alzeheimer’s Society that include finding a appropriate place to speak that has minimal background noise, showing patience as it can take longer for dementia sufferers to process information, find the right words or to finish sentences and maintaining good eye contact to help them remain focused on you.

Effective communication is also a key element in raising companywide awareness. Dementia information and guidance should be publicized, where possible, on company intranets, staff handbooks, social media groups, internal newsletters and other internal comms channels.

3/ Provide training for management

A strong, understanding, support network is vital for the wellbeing of employees with dementia and their carers. This support should not be restricted to family members and healthcare professionals.

HR professionals and line managers must receive appropriate training in how to sensitively and fairly support these employees. Not knowing how and when to help can be a decisive factor in whether or not they feel they can remain in work.

It can also affect the wider workforce with the others at risk of being affected by the emotional impact of a colleague being diagnosed with dementia.

4/ Make reasonable adjustments

The Equality Act (2010) has made it a legal requirement for companies to make reasonable adjustments to ensure employees with dementia are not disadvantaged in the workplace.

Reasonable adjustments might involve reallocating tasks to other employees, moving the employee to a quieter area, revising working hours or making changes to the physical working environment.

Such adjustments should only be made however following a thorough assessment of the employee’s needs. Expert advice should be sought when making this assessment from a GP, health care specialist, OH professional or Access to Work adviser. Access to Work, run by the Department of Work and Pensions, is available to support anyone with a disability to make the necessary adjustments to help them stay in employment.

5/ Flexible working provision

 Many people feel they are unable to combine caring for a family member with working. A study conducted last year by Public Health England revealed that more than 50,000 Britons have quit their jobs to care for relatives with dementia.

Flexible working practices can help to relieve this burden and under the Flexible Working Regulations (2006), employers are now obliged to consider requests for flexible working from carers.

PMI Health Group research finding have been encouraging with more than two-thirds of companies now offering flexible working for employees who are caring for elderly relatives.

Flexible working can mean giving consideration to a range of working patterns, from flexi-time and reduced or staggered hours to job sharing and home working.

6/ Counselling and support

The psychological wellbeing of employees affected by dementia can be helped with counselling and advisory support.

Counselling offers confidential support from trained mental health professionals. This can offer more than just coping and management techniques, it can help affected employees to better understand the options and support that are available.

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) provide a value tool for employers in this area, offering access to experienced counsellors and a 24/7 telephone helpline. Employees can use the service for themselves or their families. EAPs can also help managers better understand dementia, how it can affect employees and the sorts of adjustments they may be need to make.

Other eldercare benefits for carers, such as access to helplines and specialists who can advise on, and manage, the needs of relatives with dementia, should also be considered.

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