I wasn’t surprised to find a full page article on dementia in The Guardian, I was surprised to find it in the business section. I was not an article about the money to be made out of private health care for people with dementia, but a story about the cost to business of the increasing numbers of people with dementia.
‘As people work longer, the frequency of people developing dementia while in employment increases’
The issues that concern business are different to those of heath and social care. The employer identifies HR issues: how do we deal with employees whose competence is affected by the onset of dementia? What implications are there for the annual appraisal process? What adjustments would a good employer be expected to make if an employee came to them with a diagnoses of dementia? How do we deal with the stigma attached to this disease and whispering campaigns that seek to undermine the individual who of course could be a senior manager?
Does our policy on employees as carers adequately cover those carding for someone with dementia, what circumstances might they experience that would be different from catering for someone who is physically frail or has a learning disability? (Neighbours contacting you at work saying your mother is wandering the streets, or frequent phone calls from a confused and forgetful parent who insists your meeting is interrupted). What implications are there for flexible working, how will you respond to more requests to go part time and what implications are there for increased requests for early retirement?
How can you gauge the likely impact on the business when employees are reluctant to identify themselves as carers and afraid to confide in their managers that their GP thinks they may be experiencing the symptoms of the early stages of dementia?
The article did not offer any solutions but emphasised the need for increased awareness, open dialogue and a supportive environment.
The worry is that this hidden disability may be left to HR to deal with on a case by case bases, ignoring the reality that as people work longer, the frequency of people developing dementia while in employment increases.
‘If you suspect the chair is showing all the signs of early onset dementia, what should the organisation’s response be?’
Rather than the traditional dementia awareness session, perhaps you might be able to better engage the board and senior management team with the issues by viewing an episode or two of The West Wing.
Those of you who remember the show will recall that the president hides the fact that he has multiple sclerosis but as he nears the completion of his second term the symptoms become pronounced and periodically disabling. Perhaps not unlike the real life situation where a president was said to have early onset dementia which had to be hidden from the public for fear he would be forced out of office. We don’t know what goes on behind the scenes at the White House in real life but we are given an insight in to what might have been happening in The West Wing.
The discussion then could be if you suspect the chair is showing all the signs of early onset dementia, what should the organisation’s response be?