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Accommodation and Compliance Series:
Employees with Alzheimer's Disease

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Introduction

JAN's Accommodation and Compliance Series is designed to help employers determine effective accommodations and comply with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Each publication in the series addresses a specific medical condition and provides information about the condition, ADA information, accommodation ideas, and resources for additional information.

The Accommodation and Compliance Series is a starting point in the accommodation process and may not address every situation. Accommodations should be made on a case by case basis, considering each employee's individual limitations and accommodation needs. Employers are encouraged to contact JAN to discuss specific situations in more detail.

For information on assistive technology and other accommodation ideas, visit JAN's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) at http://AskJAN.org/soar.

Information about Alzheimer's Disease

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disorder named for the German physician Alois Alzheimer who first described it in 1906. Alzheimer’s disease damages and eventually destroys brain cells, leading to loss of memory, thinking, and other brain functions. Alzheimer's is not a part of normal aging, but results from a complex pattern of abnormal changes. It usually develops slowly and gradually gets worse as more brain cells wither and die. Alzheimer's is fatal, and currently there is no cure (Alzheimer’s Association, n.d.c.). Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease progress from mild forgetfulness to widespread brain impairment. Chemical and structural changes in the brain slowly destroy the ability to create, remember, learn, reason, and relate to others. As critical cells die, drastic personality loss occurs and body systems fail (Mayo Clinic, 2012).

Early-stage Alzheimer’s is when the problems with memory, thinking, and concentration may begin to appear in a doctor’s interview or medical tests. Individuals in the early-stage typically need minimal assistance with simple daily routines. However, at the time of diagnosis, an individual is not necessarily in the early-stage of the disease. 

The term early-onset or younger-onset refers to Alzheimer’s that occurs in persons under the age of 65. Younger-onset individuals may be employed or have children still living at home. Early-onset Alzheimer's has been known to develop between ages 30 and 40, but it is more common for someone in his or her 50s to have the disease (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

How prevalent is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, a general term used to describe various diseases and conditions that damage brain cells. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 50 to 80 percent of dementia cases (Alzheimer’s Association, n.d.b.). The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.4 million Americans are currently living with the disease (Alzheimer’s Association, n.d.b.). Of those Americans with Alzheimer’s, 5.2 million are ages 65 and older, while 200,000 are under the age of 65 (Alzheimer’s Association, n.d.b.). Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death in Americans 65 years old and older (Alzheimer’s Association, n.d.b.).

How is Alzheimer’s disease treated?

Current Alzheimer's disease medications and management strategies can temporarily improve symptoms, maximize function, and maintain independence. Research efforts focus on treatments to prevent Alzheimer's or slow its progression (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

The symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease include memory loss; challenges in planning or solving problems; difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure; confusion with time and place; trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships; problems with words in speaking or writing; difficulty maintaining things; the inability to retrace steps; decreased or poor judgment; withdrawal from work and/or social activities; and changes in mood and personality (Alzheimer’s Association, n.d.a.).

People with Alzheimer’s who are in paid employment may find that memory problems eventually start to interfere with their ability to carry out their duties. Difficulties with concentration, flexibility, and abstract thought can also interfere with a person’s ability to function fully in the workplace.  At some point it will become necessary for an employee with Alzheimer’s disease to speak to his employer about his diagnosis and limitations.

Alzheimer's Disease and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Is Alzheimer’s disease a disability under the ADA?

The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet (EEOC Regulations . . ., 2011). Therefore, some people with Alzheimer’s disease will have a disability under the ADA and some will not.

A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment (EEOC Regulations . . . , 2011). For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, visit http://AskJAN.org/corner/vol05iss04.htm.

Accommodating Employees with Alzheimer's Disease

(Note: People with Alzheimer’s disease may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with Alzheimer’s disease will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.)

Questions to Consider:

  1. What limitations is the employee experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
  6. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
  7. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?

Accommodation Ideas:

Memory:  

Organization:  

Time Management/Completing Tasks:

Difficulty Performing Job Duties:

Helpful Hints for the Accommodation Process

Employee:

Employer:

Situations and Solutions:

A finance manager with Alzheimer’s disease had difficulty learning new tasks and staying organizing.  Her physician recommended disability retirement.  Her employer took an integrated employment approach and carved out a position for her that had fewer responsibilities, but still allowed her to share her expertise with other employees.

A project manager for an engineering firm was increasingly unable to keep track of and manage all of the individual components that were involved in the project.  After careful consideration, he spoke to his employer about the difficulties he was having and asked to be placed back into a team position where he would only be involved with one aspect of the project instead of coordinating the entire project.  His employer agreed and as it was near to the end of the current project, felt that they could very easily do some restructuring and find a position for him on one of the teams.

A human resources manager at a large university had recently been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  The diagnosis came as no surprise to the employee, as he had been struggling for some time with working the long hours involved in managing the tasks. He found that he needed progressively more time to complete tasks and that the same tasks were becoming increasingly more complex.  His inability to perform the essential functions of the position prompted him to ask for an accommodation.  He requested leave under the ADA so that he could contact his EAP and determine what benefits were available to him.

A music teacher at a small high school was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s.  Through meeting with school administration and with help from her doctor, the teacher was able to remain in her position with increased support in the form of accommodations.  With the help of a colleague, she was able to better organize her desk and files so that retrieval of information was much easier.  Color-coding was used to help her better locate that information.  She was also provided with a voice-activated recorder to help her remember verbal instructions and notes from meetings. At the current time, the accommodations were helping her keep her performance at a very high level.

A caller in his late forties contacted JAN to ask about job accommodations related to a recent diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s.  The major difficulty he had been having was a compromised ability to find his way around the city. He drove a truck making deliveries and thought a GPS (global positioning system) would help him with the different directions and enable him to navigate the drive to specific locations.  With information from his medical provider to substantiate the need for the accommodation, the caller submitted his request.

Products:

There are numerous products that can be used to accommodate people with limitations. JAN's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) at http://AskJAN.org/soar is designed to let users explore various accommodation options. Many product vendor lists are accessible through this system; however, upon request JAN provides these lists and many more that are not available on the Web site. Contact JAN directly if you have specific accommodation situations, are looking for products, need vendor information, or are seeking a referral.

Resources

References

Updated 03/01/2013

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