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Could early onset dementia result in job discrimination?

There are few things as frightening as getting a diagnosis of early onset dementia. Complicating matters even more is that many who are diagnosed while they are still in the prime of their working years and really need a full income to make ends meet.

But this particular diagnosis presents problems to someone who is still in the workforce. When to tell one's employer, when to resign, should to ask to be reassigned to a less stressful position are all questions that someone with early onset dementia has to answer.

Much depends on when the diagnosis is made. One neuropsychologist with the Florida Hospital Neuroscience Institute encourages newly diagnosed patients to stop working to avoid a serious incident occurring on the job due to a lapse.

The mild cognitive impairment that manifests in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's may not initially cause serious enough mental problems to warrant an early retirement, however. Those working in industries where others' lives could be in jeopardy have the responsibility to retire once impairment becomes apparent.

Workers in some fields may be able to carry on a bit longer. Dementia affects the brain's ability to learn new things, while old established patterns and memories linger longest. Employees in low stress jobs that don't require periodic updating of systems or skill sets might be able to stave off retirement for awhile. In later stages, personality changes may make working too problematic to continue.

Workers with dementia have limited protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Companies that employ at least 15 workers must make "reasonable" accommodations for those applicants and workers living with mental or physical disabilities. An employee could request that Human Resources restructure his or her job duties or reduce working hours.

If discrimination on the job as a result of dementia occurs, an employee may be able to make a claim and seek compensation.

Source: Patients and Caregivers, "Dementia in the Workplace: How long should someone with dementia keep working?," Gina Shaw, accessed April. 08, 2015

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