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Dementia takes toll on companies

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By Andrea Kay Gannett
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

If you work and have a spouse or partner, parents or older relatives, you'll want to hear this.

And if you own or run a business, you will, too.

Few people want to discuss this subject, but it needs discussing. Right now. It affects your health, career and pocketbook.

And if you run a business, it affects your bottom line.

The subject: dementia, Alzheimer's disease and how they're taking their toll on the productivity of the American workforce.

A few facts: 1 in 8 Americans 65 and older has Alzheimer's disease. Millions more have another form of dementia. By 2025 another 30 percent of people will be living with Alzheimer's.

The prevalence of dementia is expanding rapidly as the population ages.

Who is taking care of these people? In many cases, it's their adult children, spouses and partners who work in your company.

More than 1 in 7 American workers are active or former caregivers for someone with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, according to a recent national poll. Among those, only 47 percent were able to stay working while providing care.

The poll, commissioned by Workplace Options in conjunction with the Alzheimer's Association, shows nearly 70 percent of those who work or worked while providing care had to modify their schedules.

Other findings:

• 32 percent had to take a leave of absence.

• 26 percent changed jobs for a less demanding role.

• 23 percent had to go from working full time to part time.

• 24 percent had to give up working entirely.

Other issues that come up while being a working caretaker are physical exhaustion and psychological problems such as depression and anxiety. For some, it amounts to a second job.

A 2006 study by the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the School of Public Health at the University of Albany, N.Y., points out economic consequences for female caregivers of patients with all types of illnesses.

Nearly 30 percent passed up a promotion, training or assignment. They are estimated to have an average lifetime loss of $25,494 in Social Security benefits, $67,202 in pension benefits and $566,433 in “wage wealth as a result of their caregiving.”

An article in the Gallup Business Journal points to Gallup research that estimates American businesses lose more than $25 billion annually in productivity from absenteeism among full-time working caregivers.

Although some businesses recognize this as an issue — allowing unpaid or paid vacation or sick leave for caregiving — few workplaces offer benefits that are most effective in reducing absenteeism.

Benefits that provide the highest return on investment are access to:

• Counselors to discuss options for assisted living and nursing homes.

• A network of support groups.

• Employee-assistance programs to discuss emotional distress.

• Counselors to answer questions about the person they're caring for.

“It's in a business' best interest to understand that these things are going to happen and prepare for them,” says Chief Executive Dean Debnam of Workplace Options, a provider of employee support services. Doing so will “allow employees to focus on their job when they're at work.”

Career consultant Andrea Kay can be reached at andrea@andreakay.com.

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