Diane Blum

Freelance Writer

"Can I Still Work?"
I’ve Just Been Diagnosed. Can I Still Work?

Due to an aging workforce, finding employees diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is becoming more common. While many people can remain at work in the early stages of the disease, each person’s situation is unique. Talk to your physician and caregiving team regarding how your current set of symptoms will impact your ability to work, and keep revisiting the conversation as your symptoms change. Depending on your particular job, you may need to transition out of work sooner than later, for example, if your job involves driving or utilizing skills that may be more challenging with Alzheimer’s.
If you are able to continue working, try to create a transition plan with your employer, perhaps reducing hours or taking a less demanding role. Educate your employer about the disease as you discuss your options, you may even want to bring a caregiver or advocate with you. You may find that your employer and even your Human Resources people may have had little training or exposure to the disease. Unfortunately, many companies that have stellar childcare benefits and support resources haven’t caught up with eldercare disease issues.
Research your employee insurance and health care benefits, and check out the information available from the Alzheimer’s Association. Some companies now offer EAP (Employee Assistance Program) elder care counseling which encompasses dementia. This resource may include caregiver referrals, benefits counseling and other assistance. Alzheimer’s disease is a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), so many companies must legally attempt to provide “reasonable accommodations” to keep you at work. The reality, though, is that at some point you will be transitioning to go on disability or retirement. Most companies provide short term disability insurance, and may offer long term care insurance coverage. COBRA may be an option for continuing health insurance coverage if you can no longer work. Regardless of your age, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, and possibly Medicare, through their “Compassionate Allowance Initiative” for people under the age of 65. Do you have the option to retire early? Can you take a loan from your life insurance policy or accelerate its payout benefit? All of this needs to be looked at.
Caregivers can help support their loved ones in the above planning process by educating themselves early-on regarding insurance, legal and financial decisions that need to be made. It isn’t easy to wade through; leverage your or your loved one’s EAP services to get support. If your loved one is still able to work, proactively providing them with memory tools may help. Someone who previously could easily keep appointments and details “in their head” may now need a calendar, post-its and a binder to organize their daily activities. If your loved one is comfortable with sharing the diagnosis with co-workers or clients, they might find that they can get some additional support from them.
Caregivers also need to think about their own employment situation. Research has shown that 66% of caregivers experience impacts at their work place due to coming in late, needing time off, etc. You need to do planning relating to your own finances. Can you afford to reduce hours, work at home or get a more flexible working arrangement? You may be eligible to take time off via the Family and Medical Leave Act. Your company may offer dependent care flexible spending benefits, which includes Alzheimer’s/eldercare dependents.
Transitioning out of the workforce doesn’t mean sitting at home! Encourage your loved one to contribute in other ways, perhaps volunteering or taking on hobbies. It is important that they can continue to have connections and remain engaged. Recognize they may become sad, angry and confused. And you may feel overwhelmed. Ensure you get support and respite for yourself! Although difficult, it is also always important to try and live in the day. Don’t let anxieties about the future ruin the chances of having a good day today.
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