Managing employment if you live with dementia
Navigating life with dementia can become even more challenging for a person when their employment comes into the picture. Planning for what they want when it comes to work is just as important as planning their future in personal matters.
The first step is to get a formal diagnosis. With early treatment and the right support, it’s possible to live well – and work successfully – for many years.
Can a person with dementia continue to work?
There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to dementia in the workplace. Several factors come into play, from the level of progression of dementia to how active you are in recognising and mitigating symptoms.
For some people, it’s important to stay employed – leaving would have too great a physical and emotional impact. On the other hand, if the stresses of keeping up are adversely affecting your wellbeing, the opposite might be true.
Younger people, who have loans and mortgages or children to support, might feel they need to continue working.
Personal needs and preferences aside, the supports available in the workplace (or lack thereof) can have a substantial impact on our ability to keep working. That includes how well we’re accommodated at a practical level, as well as the strength of social and emotional bonds within our teams.
Can a person with dementia claim any benefits?
If the person is over the age of 65 with a dementia diagnosis, they may be eligible to receive supports and services through My Aged Care.
If they are under 65, they may be eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), through which they can access funding for services and supports, including accessing employment. The NDIS can also fund home modifications and assistive technology.
In terms of direct financial support, the Disability Support Pension can be accessed by people living with younger onset dementia, via Centrelink. Similarly, if they’re receiving a disability or carer’s support payment from the Australian Government, they may be eligible for tax and superannuation concessions and exemptions.
Can a person be fired for having dementia?
According to Dementia Australia, when it comes to a person with dementia’s rights under employment law, “employers are legally obligated to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to allow a person with a disability to do their work (cognitive impairment associated with dementia falls under national disability legislation). It is considered ‘indirect discrimination’ to refuse to make reasonable adjustments to enable a person with a disability to comply with workplace requirements.”
‘Reasonable adjustment’ might mean revising duties to avoid exposure to any potential health and safety issues, renegotiating working hours, changing your workspace, or adding in a protective layer of supervision over your work.
If the person wants to continue working, the prospect of sharing the diagnosis with an employer might be daunting. So, before doing anything, it’s important to consult with the doctor, professional body and any other advocacy organisations. With their support, the person can work out how to communicate their diagnosis, and what they need from their workplace to enable them to keep working.
It may also be worth exploring information about anti-discrimination legislation, and nutting out where they stand in terms of sick leave and disability entitlements.
If the person works in a highly supportive environment, here are some things that can help improve their workplace:
- Great lighting can can have a big impact. It can help prevent falls, reduce stress (as light and dark spots can cause distress to a brain that’s struggling to interpret the world), and can even improve mood! Task lighting in individual workspaces can also make it easier to focus
- Make all communication easy to understand
- Improve office signage to make orientation easier, and ensure the acoustics are up to scratch
Their colleagues can be encouraged to:
- Talk to them in a quiet place
- Wait until they have the person’s full attention before they start talking
- Allow the person time to process information and check they’ve understood
- Give them space to think or ask questions in a different way to help them get there.
Explore the article Dementia and planning for the future to know about what supports a person with dementia might need in the future.
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