Brian Sloan: Duty to address dementa in the workplace

WE need planned response to ageing workforce, writes Brian Sloan

All workplaces in Scotland should be more dementia aware and better equipped to deal with the impact dementia. Picture: PA
All workplaces in Scotland should be more dementia aware and better equipped to deal with the impact dementia. Picture: PA

Imagine you begin to struggle at work and, without knowing why, start to find yourself unable to perform tasks which have been part of your routine for years. You struggle in conversation with colleagues, forget key tasks and ultimately are disciplined by your employer. Finally you are diagnosed with dementia and suddenly have to leave your job.

Even for people who retire when they are in good health, it can be a challenging and even daunting experience. Over the years Age Scotland has prepared many people for this experience through delivering pre-retirement courses. However, if your retirement is the result of dementia you have to deal with the double blow of your diagnosis and your loss of employment, with the emotional and financial impact that brings.
Age Scotland has become aware of the impact of dementia in the workplace through our Early Stage Dementia Project, funded by the Life Changes Trust. We have met older people who have lost their work following a diagnosis of dementia or even before they had been diagnosed.

We want all workplaces in Scotland to be more dementia aware and better equipped to deal with the impact dementia can have on employees, carers and customers. We believe we have a great opportunity to achieve this, and that is why we will be delivering dementia awareness training for employers and workplaces through the Early Stage Dementia Project.

Research into the impact of dementia in the workplace is at a comparatively early stage, but Scotland is at the forefront of a great deal of this research, with Professor Debbie Tolson, Dr Louise Richie and Professor Pauline Banks of University of the West of Scotland and Professor Mike Danson of Heriot Watt University conducting a major study for the Alzheimer Society. We want to learn from this research and work with businesses, unions and policy makers to ensure there is better support for employers dealing with dementia.

Many with dementia will be deemed as having “early onset” dementia, meaning they are younger than 65. But with the automatic retirement age being abolished and more people working later in life, an increasing number will be affected by dementia who are still in work. This is not only people who have dementia themselves, but people caring for a spouse, partner or family member who has dementia. Around 90,000 people in Scotland are living with dementia, and this number is forecast to increase over the next decade.

The Scottish Government has made dementia a national priority and we have seen substantial progress in supporting people with dementia through the work of organisations like Alzheimer Scotland, and many projects supported by the Life Changes Trust. There is a real momentum in improving support in health and social care services for people with dementia and creating dementia friendly communities. Employers have a key role in ensuring people with dementia have the support they are entitled to and continue to be included in their community.

We want to play our role in ensuring employers have the support they need so our workplaces take their place among dementia friendly communities. We believe there is a great opportunity to do this and are looking forward to helping ensure our workplaces better support those living with dementia.

If you want to find out more about our Early Stage Dementia Project contact us on [email protected]

• Brian Sloan is chief executive at Age Scotland