Alzheimer’s Disease and Workplace Productivity

by Kevin K. Johnson, CSA

As you know, this blog focuses on the employer issue of ‘eldercare in the workplace’. As November is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, I was wondering if there were any definitive statistics detailing employer lost productivity due to employees absenteeism caused solely by this insidious disease. Of the approximately $33 billion in employer lost productivity per year due to employee adult caregiving, how much of it is due to employees tending to the eldercare needs of loved ones with Alzheimer’s type dementia disease? First, two non-medical, layman’s definitions.

Dementia — Dementia is caused by various diseases and conditions that result in damaged brain cells or connections between brain cells. Generally speaking, to meet the criteria of dementia, symptoms must include decline in memory and decline in at least one of the following cognitive abilities:

  • Ability to generate coherent speech or understand spoken or written language;
  • Ability to recognize or identify objects, assuming intact sensory function;
  • Ability to execute motor activities, assuming intact motor abilities, sensory function and comprehension of the required task; and
  • Ability to think abstractly, make sound judgments and plan and carry out complex tasks.

Additionally, the key is that the decline in cognitive abilities must be severe enough to interfere with activities of daily living (ADL’s). It’s the inability of the senior loved one to handle their ADL’s (bathing, dressing, toileting, walking, etc…) that is a major cause of employee absenteeism and employer lost productivity.

Alzheimer’s Disease — Alzheimer’s effects over 5.4 million people but just what is Alzheimer’s Disease? Alzheimer’s is actually a type of dementia, in fact, the most common form of dementia, accounting for approximately 60% to 80% of cases. Perhaps the second most well-known (not most common) type of dementia is Parkinson’s Disease. Characteristics of Alzheimer’s dementia include difficulty remembering names and recent events (often an early clinical symptom); apathy and depression are also often early symptoms. Later symptoms include impaired judgment, disorientation, confusion, behavior changes and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

Alzheimer’s dementia is described as a regressive disease, causing adult behavior to seemingly move backwards in the aging process with respect to expressed behaviors and mental capability. Alzheimer’s 10 warning signs are:

  1. Confusion with time and location
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  4. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  5. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  6. Misplacing things and losing the ability
  7. Decreased or poor judgement
  8. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  9. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  10. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

With this non-medical understanding of Alzheimer’s Dementia, consider the following. 

Caregiver Employment — Data from the “Alzheimer’s Association 2010 Women and Alzheimer’s Poll, October 2010”, uncovered that working caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s were making major changes to their work schedules because of their caregiving responsibilities.

  • 70% of men and 61% of women — had to go in late, leave early or take time off
  • 18% of men and 21% of women — had to take a leave of absences
  • 11% of men and 14% of women — went from working full-time to part-time
  • 11% of men and 12% of women — had to take a less demanding job
  • 14& of men, and 11% of women —  had to turn down a promotion
  • 8% of men and 11% of women — lost job benefits
  • 6% of men and 12% of women — had to give up working entirely
  • 3% of men and 10% of women — chose early retirement, and
  • 8% of men and 9% of women — saw work performance suffer to the point of possible dismissal

This data, the only quantifiable information I was able to locate, does not directly yield the extrapolated costs or the approximate percentage of the total $33 billion in lost employer productivity. Nevertheless, the information makes it clear that Alzheimer’s Dementia is likely responsible for a good deal of it.

As I mentioned prior, Alzheimer’s Dementia patients require a tremendous amount of assistance with activities of daily living (ADL’s). ADL’s account for a large percentage of the issues that employees struggle to manage and thereby is the direct cause of the absenteeism and loss of focus on the job that accounts for employer lost productivity. Also, it’s important to note that the information above represents data compiled from employees after the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Dementia. It does not take into account the employee lost productivity that occured prior when employees tend to expend their paid time-off options (vacation days, sick time, etc…) to address their loved ones eldercare needs.

As stated in earlier blog postings, employers that implement solutions for their workforce to leverage when adult caregiving becomes necessary, can certainly expect to experience considerably less lost employee productivity cost. Creative focused employer benefit models such as those from Caring Concierge (www.caringconcierge.com), are now available for implementation at no cost to employers.

Note: Principal source of research for this posting was “2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” published by the Alzheimer’s Association.

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