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Coping with Early Onset Alzheimer's at Work

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Updated January 31, 2013

If you've been recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, you're not alone: approximately 200,000 Americans are facing the challenges of early onset Alzheimer's.

Early onset Alzheimer's, sometimes called younger-onset dementia, has some challenges that are unique to a younger age group. Sometimes people with early onset dementia still have children at home, and many are in the middle of a career. If you're working outside of the home and are struggling with your memory and the demands of your job, here are some issues to consider:

Should You Tell Your Boss? And When?

This is a question best decided by you, your family or close friends and your doctor. If, after a physician's assessment, it turns out that your diagnosis is early onset Alzheimer’s, it’s a good idea to let the news sink in a little bit on a personal level, process it with your family, and then choose a time to speak with your boss. One way to increase your control in the situation is to take charge of when and where to tell your boss, as opposed to your boss asking to meet with you because he has some concerns about your ability to perform your work.

If you've not been diagnosed yet, keep in mind that there are several other diagnoses that can mimic the signs of early dementia at work, including reversible conditions such as thyroid problems, normal pressure hydrocephalus, vitamin B12 deficiency and multiple others. Even too much stress or depression can impact cognitive functioning at work.

Although your first instinct may be to hide your difficulties from your boss, there are some situations where it may be better to share them, occasionally even before a diagnosis of dementia. For example, your boss may have noticed some of the same problems with your job performance that you have, and she might be more understanding if you explain that you’ve arranged for an evaluation and are aware of the concern. This decision will greatly depend on your working environment and your boss's demeanor and approachability.

Early Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment may allow you to continue to be able to work for a while. There are several medications available, as well as many clinical trials in which you might be eligible to participate. Non-medical treatment such as physical exercise and mental fitness exercises may be helpful as well.

Use Memory Strategies to Help Organize Your Work Day

Make use of a daily calendar that contains your schedule, and if there's a certain procedure that is becoming difficult, make notes in a notebook, computer or your phone on how to perform it.

Ask for Accommodations

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there may be certain accommodations you're eligible for that would help you perform your job. Consider asking your boss if it's possible for you to adjust your duties or reduce your hours to maximize your strengths and hours at your job. This can benefit both you and your employer.

Learn About Disability Benefits

You may be eligible for disability benefits which can soften the financial blow if you need to retire early. Early-Onset Alzheimer's, along with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Frontotemporal-Dementia (FTD)-Picks Disease Type A, mixed dementia and primary progressive aphasia are on the Compassionate Allowance list for disability benefits, meaning that instead of taking months to approve benefits, the process should take days.

If You Become Unemployed

If you take early retirement, are released from your job, or, for other reasons, are no longer formally employed, it's important to stay active and keep a routine. Perhaps you can volunteer somewhere regularly, become involved in an exercise group, meet weekly for coffee with a friend or go to a young onset support group. An active routine may be helpful in maintaining your current functioning and may also guard against depression, a common complication in dementia.

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association. Younger/Early Onset Alzheimer's & Dementia. Accessed January 12, 2013. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_early_onset.asp

Alzheimer's Association. Younger Onset Alzheimer's. Accessed January 29, 2013. www.alz.org/national/documents/brochure_earlyonset.pdf

Alzheimer's Foundation of America Teens. Compassionate Allowance. Accessed January 29, 2013. http://www.afateens.org/compassionate_allowance.html

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