A recent report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and funded by Novartis evaluated the effects of three neurological conditions — migraine, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) — on people in the workplace.
With increased life expectancy and extended retirement ages, more older adults are part of the workforce. As a result, a growing number of employees are either living with AD or caring for someone with AD.
“Previously, by the time we saw these patients, they would be quite disabled and their history would include how they stopped work,” Penn Memory Center Co-Director Jason Karlawish wrote. “More often than not, now they have milder symptoms [of AD] and people are still at work [as they were diagnosed earlier].”
What are the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in the workplace?
Through interviews and literature review, EIU researchers found that employees affected by any of these three neurological conditions suffer from decreased productivity, participation, and earning potential. Presenteeism, a condition in which employees are present in the workplace but unable to function at full capacity, is a common problem for these workers.
In the case of AD, negative workplace effects are felt not only by those living with this diagnosis, but also by the people who care for them. Many carers struggle to balance the demands of a full-time job with the unpaid work of caregiving. Too often, this tension leads carers to withdraw from the workplace.
“A lot of carers sadly think of it as a normal duty [to leave work], but they are walking away from social insurance and social payments that come with working,” Karlawish wrote.
What can be done to mitigate the negative impact of AD on workers?
Education and awareness about the prevalence and symptoms of neurodegenerative conditions like AD can make a big difference. The report recommends that companies establish collaborations among human resources, occupational health services, and managers to spread awareness and decrease stigma. For workers living with AD, low-cost accommodations like memory aids and noise control can help optimize productivity and participation.
The researchers strongly encourage development of institutional policies — like paid leave, peer support, and schedule flexibility — to keep workers with caring responsibilities in the workforce. While employers have many tools at their disposal to support those caring for people with AD, implementation of supportive policies in the workplace has been slow.
“It’s a much larger conversation about what are our social obligations,” wrote Karlawish. “If you see it as only a company problem, you are missing the larger issue.”