Losing capacity whilst working

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It’s likely that one of our greatest fears is to lose capacity whilst we’re still working, be unable to continue in employment and then be unable to support ourselves and our family.

Dementia is defined as degeneration of the brain, leading to a progressive decline in ability to think, reason, communicate and remember and ACAS report that approximately 18% of those diagnosed with dementia continue to work with that diagnosis. It is also likely that there are many more who leave work before a diagnosis is obtained but who actually worked whilst having the symptoms of dementia before being diagnosed.

With an ageing workforce, no enforced retirement date and 5% of those diagnosed being between the ages of 30 – 65, dementia is an issue that is increasingly going to affect employers and employees alike.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 aims to empower and protect people who may not be able to make decisions for themselves at the time they need to be taken. The Act deems that everyone is assumed to have capacity to make a decision for themselves if given enough information, support and time.

Furthermore, ACAS confirms that a diagnosis of dementia ensures protection under the Equality Act 2010. It is important that reasonable adjustments are made so that the person with dementia is not at a disadvantage compared to their colleagues.

As well as this, dementia cannot be used as a reason for being chosen for redundancy or to force retirement. Capability and disciplinary procedures should be avoided and a ‘dignified exit strategy and package’ should be utilised instead.

HR teams need to be aware of the Mental Capacity Act and the accompanying Code of Practice. Reasonable adjustments may include clear signage and labelling; quiet spaces; barriers to minimise distractions and automatic reminders may assist in ‘jogging the memory’.

In order for industry to continue to benefit from experience and the wisdom of years, attention will have to be paid as to how dementia could be managed in the workplace. Early retirement due to dementia is thought to cost approximately £627 million per annum and is a cost that ought not to be allowed to rise.

As the population ages and fewer children are born to take their place it is important that we do not lose the benefit of experience (if not skill), firstly as the first port of call in dealing with a job but also as a means of teaching those following behind.

Many will say that there is too much red tape in running a company. Dealing with an issue which will mushroom in the future in to a very real problem is not going to add to the steps that any reasonable employer already has in place.

There are of course organisations that provide support such as Dementia UK and Alzheimer’s Society.

However, in a world where communication is key, the correct solution here is to maintain a dialogue, to ensure that everyone is comfortable with what is happening and what will happen.

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