Managing Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Mental Health
America’s workers are living longer than ever before, and many are staying in the workforce past age sixty. Employers are in the position to create a comprehensive culture of health in the workplace that spans a person’s entire working lifetime. This will support all employees by minimizing the impact of chronic disease and other health issues.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive brain disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Alzheimer’s disease develops from multiple risk factors, such as genetics, lifestyle and environment. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life.
Know the Signs
The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly learned information. There are 10 warning signs to help identify symptoms that may be related to Alzheimer’s or another dementia. If you notice changes in friends, family or others close to you and are concerned for their health—particularly when it involves changes in memory, thinking or behavior—it can be difficult to know what to do or say. Although it’s natural to be uncertain or nervous about how to offer support, these are significant health concerns. This worksheet can help you feel more confident as you assess the situation and take action.
While many people experience some changes in memory, thinking and behavior as they age, changes that disrupt daily life are not a typical part of aging. If you or someone you know is experiencing memory or thinking problems, it is important to share these concerns with a doctor. Only a full medical evaluation conducted by a licensed physician can determine if symptoms are related to dementia. Choosing a doctor is the first step to evaluating memory and thinking problems.
There is no single test that can determine if you are living Alzheimer’s disease. Multiple steps are taken in order to evaluate memory and thinking. Understanding the type and purpose of the tests available and knowing what to expect during an evaluation can be empowering and help to ease anxiety. It is also helpful to understand the stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and while there is no cure, the FDA approved treatment to delay decline from the disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers resources to support those living with the disease, their loved ones and caregivers.
- AlzConnected is a free, online community for everyone affected by Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
- Alznavigator helps guide caregivers to answers supporting the development of personalized actions plans.
- 24/7 Helpline (800-272-3900) is a free service where experts provide confidential support and information to anyone impacted by Alzheimer’s or another dementia.
- Education Center offers several Alzheimer’s and dementia online education courses to learn about the disease
Depression in Older Adults
Healthcare providers may mistake an older adult’s symptoms of depression as just a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that may occur as we age, and therefore not see the depression as something to be treated. Older adults themselves often share this belief and do not seek help because they don’t understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment.
About 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition and 50% have two or more. Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses (such as heart disease or cancer), suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or whose function becomes limited. Depression is also very common among people with Alzheimer’s, but there is treatment available that can make a difference in quality of life.
According to the CDC, here are some signs to look for related to depression:
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
- Irritability or restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
Family and Caregivers
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), caregivers provide care to people who need some degree of ongoing assistance with everyday tasks on a regular or daily basis. For many people, providing care for a family member with a chronic illness or a disabling condition can provide a sense of fulfillment, establishment of extended social networks or friendship groups associated with caregiving, and feeling needed and useful.
Informal or unpaid caregiving has also been associated with elevated levels of depression and anxiety, higher use of psychoactive medications, worse self-reported physical health, compromised immune function and increased risk of early death. Because of this, it is important that caregivers are given support and resources to care for themselves as well as their family member.
Supporting Employees in the Workplace
A worksite wellness program is an employee centered approach to improve health outcomes, health behaviors, productivity and morale in the workplace. Wellness programs include a coordinated and comprehensive set of strategies, which promote and support health, safety, physical activity and overall well-being for all employees.
Activities for Older Adults
The economy puts great pressure on workers’ families and their retirement plans, often forcing older workers to postpone retirement and stay in the workforce longer. When planning an employee wellness program, it is important to keep in mind activities that will support your aging population in the workplace.
- Focus on topics related to mental health such as techniques to reduce stress.
- Provide resources through newsletters or email blasts on safety topics such as avoiding occupational back pain.
- Send out messages on healthy eating and healthy lifestyle tips for older adults.
- Increase the availability of alternative opportunities for safe, regular physical activity for older adults.
Caring for Caregivers
In addition to the aging workforce, employers also need to be aware of the unique stresses faced by employees who may be the primary caregiver for an older adult. The emotional, physical and financial toll can impact a caregiver’s work performance. It’s important for employers to have resources readily available for caregivers in order to fend off burnout and provide them with the support they need to maintain a healthy work and life balance.
Providing a support and educational program at work for caregivers can be a great solution. Programs should be accessible to all employees, respect privacy and be provided by qualified and trained professionals. There are four important areas to include in any caregiver program: facts, flexibility, finance, and friendship.
- The Healthy Brain Initiative
- Louisiana Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs
- SHIP: Long-term Care Insurance Guide for LA
- Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline
- For Alzheimer’s training, check out the Alzheimer’s Association Training and Education Center for free online courses, available 24 hours per day.
- Depression and Alzheimer’s
- Let’s Talk
- Basics of Legal Planning
- Legal Plans Brochure
- Money Matters Brochure
- Training: Legal and Financial Planning for Alzheimer’s Disease