There are currently more than 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK and this is estimated to rise to over a million by 20211. That means a huge number of families are affected by dementia and, inevitably, the number of employees with responsibility for loved ones with dementia is rising.
There are some great employers who understand the needs of such employees. They have policies, procedures and processes that allow people the time to look after their loved ones. But, in my experience and through my work with employers and raising awareness of the condition, in the UK we aren’t yet really strong at having a dementia-friendly perspective in workplaces.
I do think there is a bit of prejudice against dementia. In terms of the attitude and the values about it, people are scared about dementia in society. They don’t talk about it much and there’s stigma attached to it. A lot of organisations, large and small, put a lot of thought and time into health and safety and into their maternity leave policies. If an employee’s child is poorly and the employee needs time off to take them to a specialist, they almost don’t have to ask. But we don’t have the same attitude to dementia.
However, organisations by their culture can shift that. They can say, “We’re going to make sure our dementia policies are up to date.” They can say to employees: “It’s perfectly acceptable to have dementia in this day and age, and it’s perfectly acceptable to come to me and let me know if your mum or dad has it.”
The first, easy step towards a culture shift is understanding dementia and the pressures on carers. It won’t cost a small company anything to become more aware. Organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society have excellent information for employers on creating an environment and culture where dementia is normal and understood, such as this leaflet.
Ultimately for productivity, in terms of happier and less stressed employees, it could make all the difference.
Bupa’s Elderly Care Support Line (0370 218 4321^) is a free service, available to everyone. Our advisers can help with financial queries, respite care, full-time domestic care – within the Bupa care services network and outside – and much more.
Paul Edwards is Head of Practice Development at Bupa UK Care Services. He has been a nurse for 25 years, specialising in dementia care, and has a background in clinical care and education.