While I have seen, throughout my personal life, what Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can do to loved ones, I also have experienced how this disease can impact the workplace.
Throughout my career in various executive positions with large corporations and my own businesses, I have witnessed a number of my employees forced to work two jobs. One job would be during the day at the office and the second never had a start or end time because they were serving as caregivers to their loved one who was living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. The toll it takes on both the caretaker and, of course, the individual with the disease, is heart-wrenching and exhausting.
From my experience, I saw caretakers often arrived late to work or left early due to appointments or a caregiving emergency. Compared with their co-workers, they were often fatigued and distracted, which not only impacted their production and wellbeing but also their health care costs, which were almost three times that of a colleague in a comparable demographic. These individuals also were more inclined to have no choice but to leave the company sooner than planned to become a full-time caretaker — which created extra costs to the corporation to replace them.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, on average, caregivers lose more than $15,000 in annual income as a result of reducing or quitting work to meet the demands of tending to a loved one. Many also experience extreme stress and/or depression; may have difficulty affording basic needs, such as proper meals; and one-in-five cut back on their own doctors visits, causing them to be out ill, or work while unwell, more often.
Sadly, the number of Alzheimer’s diagnoses is growing quickly as the population ages. By mid-century, in the United States, a new individual will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every 33 seconds. Because of that, the Alzheimer’s Association predicts in 2050, costs to Medicare will increase 360 percent.
Unfortunately, many business leaders have not yet recognized this serious financial impact and may not display much understanding of an employee’s dire situation. At the same time, employees are afraid to seek assistance or compassion as to not be seen as weak or needy in the workplace.
As someone whose employees have been both caregivers and individuals with the disease, I encourage employers and those in leadership positions to do, at minimum, the following three things.
- First, if the leader has personally been affected by Alzheimer’s, consider being open with their experience.
- Second, if the business provides caregiving or other support services through its Employee Assistance Program, make sure that the employee is given the proper information, because these resources could prove to be their saving grace.
- Finally, encourage employees to reach out to their local Alzheimer’s Association chapter for support. The organization also offers the Alzheimer’s Workplace Alliance, a group of nearly 2,000 companies and organizations that support their employees, customers, members and others with resources.
All these suggestions can help alleviate a great deal of stress off of their heavy shoulders, allowing them to become a more productive and content employee. As leaders, we have the ability to do the right thing.
Remember, Alzheimer’s disease does not discriminate. Anyone from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to an entry level account assistant, will be affected by this devastating disease at some point in their life — be it by a loved one or themselves.
View the original article here on Crain’s Detroit Business.