Dementia Overview

Dementia is a type of neurological condition which causes progressive deterioration of brain function. It is primarily associated with memory loss. The two most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Dementia affects 33% of people in the UK at some point during their life.

What are the signs and symptoms of Dementia?

  • Memory loss – this is the most commonly recognised symptom
  • Thinking speed
  • Language and speech (struggling to find the right word, etc.)
  • Comprehension and judgement
  • Mood and emotions
  • Movement
  • Hallucinations
  • Incontinence and eating difficulties in the later stages

In the early stages, these symptoms may be so mild that they will not be diagnosed as dementia, but they are still a reason to see a GP, as they could worsen.

Alzheimer’s-specific symptoms include:

  • Asking questions repeatedly
  • Confusion in unfamiliar environments
  • Difficulty with numbers
  • Anxiety.

Vascular dementia-specific symptoms include:

  • Stroke-like temporary paralysis or muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Becoming more emotional.

Lewy bodies dementia has similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s, including drowsiness and fainting.

Frontotemporal dementia is the most common in under-65s and can cause the person to lose their capacity for social awareness and empathy and they may also become obsessive in their behaviours.

How does Dementia get diagnosed and treated?

GPs can assess symptoms in conversation with the person to determine the impact of the suspected dementia on their daily life.

It is often recommended that someone who knows the person and can describe the evolution of the condition in them goes with them to the GP.

Cognitive tests can be performed, such as asking the person to recall words from the top of their head. These can be used to work out the severity of their dementia.

There is no cure for dementia, but early identification and therefore medication (to slow down the progression of the condition) can allow the person’s symptoms to affect them as little as possible for longer.

Ongoing assessments help monitor the condition and the impact medication is having on its progression.

There are a few ways to determine whether an employee with Dementia might require reasonable adjustments:

The employee may or may not wish to disclose their Dementia, as many people feel shame regarding their Dementia. 

However, in some professions, such as the armed forces, the employee has a legal obligation to disclose their dementia as symptoms may seriously impact the person themselves or colleagues in that specific line of work.

Regardless, questions regarding the nature of any additional needs and what extra support may be required can be broached sensitively. For example:

  • Would adjustments to their work or working environment be helpful and if so, what sort of thing? It is important that an employer does not jump to conclusions or assumptions based on their existing understanding of Dementia – such as assuming they are no longer fit for work –  but instead keep up a dialogue with the employee, in order to empower them in spite of their condition.

What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees with Dementia?

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with Dementia if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has Dementia. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.

If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance up front, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of Dementia:

  • Extra time to complete tasks to accommodate difficulties the person may have organising themselves or working out how best to go about more lengthy tasks.
  • A structured working day to allow the employee to concentrate more easily.
  • Adjustment to duties so that the person with Dementia can keep themselves and others as safe as possible. For example, people with Dementia are required to inform the DVLA, in case their ability to drive safely has been impacted. An employee may, as a result, be unable to commute, or operate machinery at work. 
  • Making use of technology such as diaries and calendars on the computer to take some of the pressure of the person regarding remembering to do things.
  • Time off to attend appointments, so that the person can attend monitoring assessments, etc.
  • Sensory adjustments, for example, allowing the employee to sit away from loud noises, or allowing them to wear noise-cancelling headphones if they are susceptible to distraction.
  • Flexibility regarding working from home if the employee cannot drive to work, or is experiencing mood difficulties, for example, they may feel more comfortable working from home.
  • Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the employee’s Dementia and can help ensure the employee feels comfortable at work. This might involve learning more about the condition to gain a better understanding of what the employee might be facing day-to-day.

Dementia Signposting

Dementia UK – charity committed to providing specialist dementia care through care provisions by trained nurses, support for families and carers and online advice (0800 888 6678).

Alzheimer’s Society – charity aiming to offer support to everyone newly diagnosed with dementia by 2022, face-to-face and online through specially trained dementia advisers, as well as raising awareness in the general public and empowering people diagnosed with the condition to have a say in their ongoing care (0333 150 3456).

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