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How to: Guide to navigating Alzheimer's in the workplace

Foster a culture of openness, education and support.

*This article was last updated in February 2020.

According to the Alzheimer's Association External Site, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, and 50 years from now, the number will climb close to 14 million.

With Alzheimer's diagnoses showing no signs of slowing down, and no substantial cure on the horizon, bringing awareness to Alzheimer's disease in the workplace is crucial--especially since symptoms typically don't show External Site for 20 years. And, by then, it can often be too late for any kind of treatment.

Spot the difference: Alzheimer's vs. dementia in the workplace

First thing first: It's important to understand the difference External Site between an employee who has Alzheimer's, compared to one who might suffer from dementia. Although Alzheimer's is a common cause of dementia, Alzheimer's is a disease and dementia is not.

  • Alzheimer's disease:

    A degenerative brain disease caused by complex brain changes following cell damage. A common, early symptom of Alzheimer's is trouble remembering information because the disease first impacts the part of the brain associated with learning. As the disease advances, symptoms become more severe causing disorientation, confusion and behavior changes.
  • Dementia:

    Not a normal part of aging and is caused by damage to brain cells that affects the ability to communicate, think, behave and feel.

In 2019, Alzheimer's and other dementia cost the nation $290 billion, and by 2050, those costs could rise to $1.1 trillion.

Source: The Alzheimer's Association

Your workplace plays a huge role when your employees need it most. By offering various accommodations or resources to employees dealing with Alzheimer's disease (either personally or as caregivers), you can help ease struggles or burdens that may arise.

5 tips for accommodating Alzheimer's in your workplace

Provide support when employees need it most.

Through this difficult time, make your workplace as comfortable and supportive as possible for employees to express their needs, concerns or frustrations. When you create a supporting and open environment, you can accurately accommodate each employee’s unique experiences.

"I'm not sure anyone would describe caregiving as a happy experience. It is, in fact, a heartbreaking journey, yet I feel so lucky that I could do it for as long as I could." - said Mike McDowell, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield member. Read his full story Opens in a new window with care giving for his mother who suffered from dementia, and eventually Alzheimer's disease on BlueSM.

Keep the workplace clutter-free.

According to a study done by the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation External Site, researchers found by reducing visual clutter, participants had improved memory and performance with everyday tasks.

TIP: Add visual or verbal reminders to help employees with Alzheimer’s disease perform their very best at work.

Evaluate employee working hours.

Between varying appointments, treatments, and the emotional trauma an Alzheimer’s diagnosis may bring, it’s important to know your employees may have to step away from the office. Having a conversation up-front with an employee about appropriate or flexible hours can help them feel supported and more engaged when in the office.

Consider all-employee training.

Provide information and training to employees about how to talk, support and help a fellow colleague dealing with Alzheimer’s in the workplace. You can provide education about the varying symptoms, how to act in sensitive situations, and accommodations they can easily make to support a coworker.

Consider this accommodation and compliance External Site training guide from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

Promote BeWell 24/7SM.

Available to Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield members, the BeWell 24/7 service can help your employees find a doctor, coordinate appointments, get treatment advice, seek a second opinion and even manage complex situations. Search “BeWell 24/7” on the Wellmark Marketing Toolkit for ready-to-share flyers, information and more.

At the end of the day, your employees are your company's most valuable investments. Their happiness, engagement, work-life balance and health are all critical to how your business moves forward. With any disease or illness, the most important part is offering support and resources when necessary.

Healthy business, healthy employees

With your natural knack for wanting to help, educate and provide the best benefits to your employees, now there is a resource to turn your employees into savvy health care consumers. Companies that offer Wellmark coverage have access to myWellmark®. myWellmark allows your employees to manage their conditions, track claims and costs, compare quality and find top centers for specialty care.

With myWellmark®, your confidence can be restored in your employees’ knowledge of their health insurance coverage, leaving you to answer fewer questions, calls and emails about health insurance information.

If they haven’t done so already, encourage your employees to register for myWellmark Opens in a new window. Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield account representative, or email us at Send Email.