The larger your workforce, the greater chance you have of several employees who also provide care for a loved one. Employees who take on the added role of caregiver often experience challenges and feelings of overwhelm that they try to hide at work. While at work, caregiving employees may be distracted by worried thoughts about the individual they care for, whether it’s a spouse, parent, or friend.
The overwhelm of caring for a person living with dementia without support and guidance can compete with work performance and overall well-being.
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms eventually grow severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.
Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. The disease worsens over time, causing the individual to need support from friends, family, or professional caregivers for assistance with daily life. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, however there are treatments available that may help with symptoms.
How does Alzheimer’s disease impact the workplace?
Being a full-time caregiver to a person living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, alongside the responsibilities of a full-time job, can be overwhelming. Many caregiving employees are challenged to meet high demands in their professional and personal lives, which can create a fast track toward burnout.
Because caregiving employees may be worried about their loved one while at work, productivity, engagement, and performance can decline. In fact, 57% of employed caregivers had to go into work late, leave early, or take time off due to caregiving demands in 2021.
“Being a caregiver in general can certainly add stress to any employee, but caring for someone living with dementia can present unique challenges, said Melanie Baird, vice president of program services for the Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter. “According to the Association’s Facts and Figures report, twice as many caregivers of those with dementia, compared with caregivers of people without dementia, indicate substantial emotional, financial and physical difficulties.”
Being a caregiver to a loved one is often an unpaid role. Caregivers in the U.S. provided an estimated 16 billion hours of unpaid care with the total value of unpaid care nearing $272 billion in 2021. While providing unpaid care, six in 10 caregivers were employed in the last year and worked an average of 35 hours per week while caregiving.
The Employer’s Role
“Your caregiver employees affect the bottom line, but whether they hurt it or boost it depends on how you [support] them,” explained Jim Mangi, Alzheimer’s Association community educator, during a recent Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter webinar.
In the last year, 18% of employees who are caregivers had to cut back on work hours and 9% gave up working entirely to provide care. Employers who deal openly with dementia in the workplace can benefit the company’s bottom line and enhance organizational culture.
“Alzheimer’s is a disease, not a disgrace,” said Mangi. The more employers can do to help caregiving employees feel seen, heard, and supported, the better performance, engagement, and culture will be.
How can employers provide support?
1. Employee trainings. Employees at every stage of life can benefit from information about dementia and caregiving. Those who are not caregivers now may take on that responsibility in the future. The Alzheimer’s Association Michigan Chapter partners with businesses to provide 30–60-minute lunch and learn events for staff. Popular topics include:
- 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s
- Understanding Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Healthy living for your brain and body
Trainings will help staff be more understanding of coworkers who may require accommodations so they can provide care for a loved one. This can contribute to a more compassionate and inclusive workplace overall.
2. Be flexible with schedules. Employees who provide care for a loved one may need to reduce or flex hours to fulfill responsibilities. Often, caregivers of people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will benefit from flexible schedules so they can drive their loved one to appointments, prepare meals, help manage finances, provide emotional support, and much more. Employers should try to be as flexible as possible to help employees succeed in both roles. Once employees become confident in their new role as a caregiver, they will in turn become more present and productive at work.
3. Offer benefits specific to caregivers. Caregiving benefits can include counseling sessions that are fully covered by insurance. It is important to communicate these benefits to staff on a regular basis, so employees are aware. Some caregiving employees may not know your company offers caregiver benefits and could go years trying to manage on their own without support.
4. Be understanding. Let caregiving employees know you understand their challenge of balancing professional and personal responsibilities and that you are willing to do all you can to help support them. As an employer, you do not want your caregiving employees to feel like they should hide their caregiving role.
5. Offer different work environments. For employees experiencing dementia themselves, work with them to find a more supportive work environment. This may include moving their workspace to a quieter and less cluttered area of the office to help ease their transition as their disease progresses.
Depending on the age of your workforce, it is likely that some employees are experiencing dementia themselves. Over 5% of individuals with dementia are under age 65 and may have younger onset Alzheimer’s.
Sometimes, the employee does not know they are showing signs of dementia, and often, it is coworkers who recognize the symptoms first (thanks to training employers provide). By fostering a culture of respect, compassion, and understanding around dementia-related diseases, staff are better prepared to take care of one another by recognizing warning signs.