Dementia describes the loss of various cognitive functions, such as thinking, memory, reasoning, and behavior. Receiving a diagnosis of dementia may affect how a person functions in the workplace, but it does not mean they have to give up their independence.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, it is up to the individual and their personal situation as to whether they continue to work after receiving a diagnosis of dementia. For some people, staying at work is good for their physical and emotional well-being. For others, cognitive decline may progress faster.

This article discusses whether a person with dementia can work and what measures employers may implement for those who have received a diagnosis. It also discusses how dementia may affect a person in the workplace.

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After receiving a diagnosis of dementia, some people may wonder how it will affect their employment. Dementia is an umbrella term describing an impaired ability of specific functions, such as:

  • memory
  • thinking
  • making decisions
  • doing everyday activities
  • communication and language
  • reasoning
  • problem solving and judgment

Legally, a person can still work if they have dementia, but as the condition progresses, they may have difficulty with certain parts of their role. Dementia is different in and personal to each situation. Some may want to leave work as soon as they receive a diagnosis, and others may feel that work fulfills them physically and emotionally.

Depending on what job a person does, they may have difficulty with the following:

  • forgetting meetings and appointments
  • difficulty doing physical tasks
  • aspects of behavior
  • following conversations in the workplace
  • multitasking
  • recognizing workplace colleagues
  • difficulty in planning or executing decisions

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those over 65 years old are most likely to receive a diagnosis, and the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia symptoms vary for many people, so they may be able to continue to work without much issue.

Read more about dementia here.

The United States and United Kingdom have laws prohibiting employer discrimination against disabilities, taking into consideration capability. These laws include:

Although the laws mean an employer cannot fire a person or dismiss them just for having a diagnosis of dementia, there may be a time when the condition’s progression affects capability.

Is a person legally required to tell their employer?

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, a person will be legally required to tell their employer about their diagnosis, depending on the type of work they do.

Some of these roles may include:

  • if their job has an impact on the health and safety of others, such as working in healthcare
  • if their work involves driving
  • if their work involves operating heavy machinery

If their job involves driving, they will have to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles in the U.S. and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in the U.K.

Can an employer fire a person for having dementia?

It is important for a person to discuss their diagnosis with their employer so they can make reasonable adjustments to help them do their job. If their employer dismisses them or forces them to retire without reasonable adjustments, this could be unfair dismissal. If an employer makes things difficult to a point that a person becomes forced to leave, this is constructive dismissal.

The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes dementia into three stages: early, middle, and late.

Dementia can progress differently for each person, with some keeping their independence for years after their diagnosis and others progressing quickly through each stage.

Each stage will affect a person’s role in the workplace differently. For example, most people with late stage or advanced dementia will most likely not work.

Early stage dementia in the workplace

The early stage of dementia can last, on average, about 2 years. Early stage dementia symptoms may vary for each person, with some being able to continue working without difficulties.

The term early stage dementia is mainly for those at the beginning of their diagnosis. Ways it may affect them in the workplace include:

  • experiencing changes in mood and behavior
  • difficulty judging or making decisions
  • memory loss, such as forgetting appointments, events, or meetings
  • difficulty planning or making complex decisions
  • difficulty in communication with colleagues or using the right words in conversations

Middle stage dementia in the workplace

The middle stage of dementia can last around 2 to 4 years. The condition’s progression may worsen before or during this stage, and a person may have less capacity to do certain roles than before.

Ways it may affect them regarding work include:

  • needing a caregiver in the house to get ready for work, including washing and dressing
  • increasing orientation issues, such as getting ready for work in the middle of the night
  • increasing social difficulties, such as paranoia and distrust of others
  • hallucinations
  • behavioral issues, such as screaming, shouting, agitation, anxiety, and repetitive behavior
  • physical issues, such as needing assistance when using the toilet

Even if their employer is supportive, they may leave work when such symptoms appear.

Late stage dementia in the workplace

The final stage of dementia can last around 1 to 2 years, and a person may require full-time care. An ability to recognize loved ones, thinking they are at an earlier stage in their life, and an increase in behaviors such as aggression are all symptoms of late stage dementia.

Requiring full-time care most likely means a person will not be able to work.

Learn more about the stages of dementia here.

Leaving work

Before a person leaves work, they may want to become aware of their entitlements and benefits, such as:

  • disability or sickness benefits
  • pension
  • insurances
  • government benefits

Talking with employers about a diagnosis can ensure a person is not only legally protected, but an employer can also make adjustments in their role and the workplace.

Reasonable adjustments may include:

  • changing schedules to prevent unnecessary fatigue
  • being able to work from home
  • simplifying tasks and routines
  • using technology to remind a person of events or appointments
  • adjusting the role, for example, removing aspects such as driving
  • arranging meetings in locations that are familiar

How to talk with an employer

Some people find that talking with their employer and colleagues about their diagnosis means they feel more supported, especially when navigating the difficulties due to dementia.

An employer has a legal duty to help a person once they are told to tell them. Telling an employer about a diagnosis can be a positive thing and ensure that the right changes and adjustments happen.

Many people with dementia in the workplace may not want how they’re treated as they receive a diagnosis.

If you work with someone with dementia, there are many ways to be a supportive colleague, such as:

  • helping a colleague to remember certain appointments
  • being supportive and helpful when issues arise
  • helping a colleague make decisions, assisting where needed while not being overbearing or patronizing
  • taking on roles they may not be able to do
  • being patient if a colleague is having difficulties with communication or understanding

A person with dementia can still work after a diagnosis, and an employer is legally required to make adjustments. These adjustments may include working from home, changing schedules, and simplifying tasks and routines.

As the condition progresses, it may become increasingly difficult to do certain parts of a role. Talking with employers about a diagnosis is important. Knowing enables employers to work out how best to be supportive.