How dementia is impacting Britain's workplaces
October 9 2023 - Once upon a time, dementia was a disease confined to the nation's care homes and the lives of the older generations. Sadly, the diagnosis rate has soared in recent years, and we're now seeing an overwhelming number of individuals and families impacted by the condition in some way.
Anthony Burns, CEO of not-for-profit Health Cash Plan provider Paycare, explains why this means employers need to be acutely aware of the effects dementia could be having in the workplace:
"The recent Alzheimer's Awareness Month gives us all an opportunity to highlight the signs, symptoms and impact of the condition. Alzheimer's is one of the most common forms of dementia, but there are other types too - such as vascular and Lewy Bodies. When you add them together, we're sadly set to see more than 1million dementia cases in the UK by the end of the decade.
"That represents a significant proportion of people who have a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, or other loved one who has been diagnosed (and of course many more who haven't yet had a diagnosis or approached a health professional for support). And of those people, many will be working age - trying to continue giving their all to their career while simultaneously juggling the physical and emotional workload of caring for a relative, neighbour or friend.
"As a degenerative disease, dementia gets progressively worse over time - which not only increases the care and intervention they may need, but can also represent an increased strain on those watching their loved one become more and more unwell.
"This is where having a supportive employer can make all the difference. An open company culture where staff feel comfortable discussing what's going on in their lives is more likely to see managers made aware of the caring responsibilities that a team member has outside of work, and an impactful workplace wellbeing plan can provide that person access to the kind of support which could make a real difference. We're talking here about benefits such as Employee Assistance Programmes, access to round-the-clock GP appointments, and flexible working hours and locations.
"And there is, of course, another side to the coin. There are more people than ever choosing to work past state pension age, meaning the likelihood of a person's symptoms becoming apparent while they're still employed is higher than ever.
"There are almost 1.5million people older than 65 working in the UK right now - and the risk of dementia doubles every five years past 65 - so it's sadly inevitable than more employers may become aware that a staff member has been diagnosed or is beginning to have symptoms of dementia.
"And it's that process of 'becoming aware' which is crucial here: employers should be confident that they can spot the early signs of the disease, and that they'd know where to signpost a staff member should they be concerned that they may have dementia.
"While memory loss is the key symptom associated with the condition, there are other signs which can differ depending on which type of dementia the person has. For example, with Alzheimer's the person could have trouble planning or concentrating, become confused about times and places, or struggle to contain their emotions. For those with vascular dementia, difficulty following a set of instructions or problems concentrating could arise, while DLB (dementia with Lewy bodies) presents challenges when it comes to focusing, sleeping and moving.
"Looking at those potential symptoms, it's clear that they could very easily be noticed at work, so it really is about bringing awareness to the link between these signs and a potential dementia diagnosis.
"And of course, while dementia is more prevalent in those aged over 65, there was a 70% rise between 2014 and 2022 of early onset dementia (also known as young onset) and it's now estimated at least 70,000 people are living with this form of the condition. Early onset can often present itself slightly different, so again this is where awareness among team leaders, managers and even the person's colleagues could really help when it comes to prompt diagnosis - which will in turn help health professionals manage the condition for that person (although there is sadly no cure to date).
"So, whether it's recognising the symptoms which are associated with the different forms, or having a robust strategy in place to support anyone affected by a loved one's dementia journey, it all comes down to having a strong workplace wellbeing policy and ensuring everyone in the company is looking out for each other. Because sadly, dementia is no longer separate from the workplace - and each new year brings more diagnoses and more reasons for employers to make sure they're keyed into the impact the condition could be having in their business."
Anthony Burns is the CEO of Paycare, a not-for-profit Health Cash Plan provider which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2024. The organisation aims to improve the health and happiness of the UK by supporting with the everyday costs of healthcare and focusing on the wellness of individuals, employees and their families. For more ideas on developing and implementing a successful Workplace Wellbeing strategy, you can download Paycare's free guide here: www.paycare.org/workplace-wellbeing.