Dementia is often wrongly seen as a condition affecting only the elderly and, as such, unrelated to business.
However, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK, dementia affects 820,000 people across the country.
While most people with the disease are over 65, it is estimated as many as 41,000 patients in UK are younger. In rare cases, those in their 30s have been affected.
Around 23million of us have a close friend or family member with the disease, which costs the economy £23billion annually.
The World Alzheimer Report 2013 says more than 35million people are living with dementia globally.
This number is set to double by 2030, and more than triple by 2050: presenting a huge challenge.
Businesses need to be aware of the support their employees need, as sufferers or, more likely, caregivers.
You need to be aware that the Equality Act 2010 (disability) will apply, therefore if the patient is a dependant or immediate relation of your employee, you must consider reasonable adjustments to support your employee.
Failure to do so could result in a claim of indirect discrimination in breach of the Act. Your occupational health adviser will provide you with guidance. This can include flexible working.
The most common types are vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s develops slowly, due to the gradual loss of brain cells.
Vascular dementia manifests itself through a number of mini strokes, causing progressive brain damage.
It is normal to become a little absent minded as we grow older.
There are tell-tale signs when forgetfulness signifies something more than just the ageing process.
These include: changes in personality; memory loss and difficulty communicating; inability to complete complex tasks and problems with coordination and motor function.
Dementia sufferers can often become lost, paranoid and can display inappropriate behaviour.
The key disorder is a progressive deterioration in thinking, sufficient to interfere with social, occupational and intellectual functions.
It is important to seek medical help quickly, particularly as other conditions, which improve or resolve when treated, can cause similar symptoms.
Medical assessments include: cognitive and neuropsychological tests as well as neurological evaluations.
Brain scans to rule out the possibility of tumours, and laboratory tests to exclude an underactive thyroid or vitamin B12 deficiency.
While the most common forms of dementia cannot be cured, medication may help reduce the effects in the short term.
Doctors may also arrange for an occupational therapist to visit and identify changes to help patients cope at home or work.
Caregiving can be physically and emotionally demanding, those looking after someone with dementia should:
– Speak to their line managers at work and discuss what assistance would be useful
– Ask friends or other family members for help
– Take care of their own health
– Learn as much about the disease as possible; ask plenty of questions and join a support group
– Find out about local services, such as respite care or adult day care. These can provide a break from caregiving at scheduled times
Communication may become difficult as dementia progresses, but it is important to persevere. Tips include:
– Speak slowly, clearly and use straightforward language
– Allow time to respond and, if necessary, repeat what was said. Do not shout, the condition does not cause hearing loss
– Good eye contact and careful listening show attentiveness
– Avoid being patronising: speak and behave normally
– Remain positive
– Do not restrict activities unnecessarily. Safety is important, but so is a normal routine
Caregivers have an extremely important role
It is essential they find time to look after themselves and ask others, including employers, for support.
Groups such as The Alzheimer’s Society or other helplines offer advice. Call: 0300 222 11 22 or log on to alzheimers.org.uk
Bill Freeland is Medical Director at International SOS and Abermed