A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is frightening and life-changing, to say the least. There are many unanswered questions, fears and anxieties of the unknown.
Most often, the person diagnosed is past active employment so concerns about a job and job-related performance do not enter into future planning. However, for those still working, important questions do arise.
While you may be reserved in letting your employer know about your illness, it would benefit you greatly to be as transparent and as proactive as possible. Start the conversation early and inform your supervisor about your diagnosis before your job performance suffers and/or you receive any disciplinary actions. Taking this approach up front would demonstrate your trust and confidence to the company and also build a more beneficial relationship with your employer, which could ultimately mean a longer stay at your job.
Be aware that there are laws and resources in place to assist someone with Alzheimer's disease to continue employment. The Americans with Disabilities Act Title 1, for instance, requires employers (of more than 15 employees) to provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities. The act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all aspects of employment.
Seek advice from your company's human resources representative on how the company can provide reasonable accommodations for you, which might include restructuring your job, incorporating written or verbal reminders into your work day, reducing the number of hours you work daily or weekly, splitting up large tasks into smaller ones and providing additional training through workplace changes. You may have to consider reducing your work hours or switching to a less demanding position.
You should also find out about any employee assistance programs, such as family leave, and if you are covered by disability or other employee benefits.
Each case of Alzheimer's is unique to the individual, so your company needs to focus on specific accommodations needed for you to do your job. Further, the more the employer becomes educated about Alzheimer's disease through you and other resources, the greater service it can provide to you and present and future employees.
Because of the nature of Alzheimer's disease, such as memory loss and executive functions, the reality is that working might become a great challenge for you and cause more anxiety and distress, which can exacerbate your illness.
You should continue to get regular medical care and find resources and support to manage your disease. Contact the Social Security office at (800) 772-1213 for information on disability benefits. Look at legal, financial and long-term planning to assure your future.
Additionally, take care of yourself by eating a proper diet, exercising and remaining social as long as possible. You might also consider participating in a clinical trial, which would help in developing the next generation of Alzheimer's treatments.
For your own safety as the disease progresses, consider enrolling in the MedicAlert/Alzheimer's Association Safe Return program.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at firstname.lastname@example.org.