The Americans With Disabilities Act and Young Onset Alzheimer’s
(This information is copied from the website of the Job Accommodation Network, a service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy, US Department of Labor.
The impact of Young Onset (also known as Early Onset) Alzheimer’s often first appears in the workplace. Supervisors or other employees might notice your difficulties in fulfilling your work responsibilities, and may mistakenly attribute the issue as a drug or alcohol problems.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) can help identify you as medically disabled, and therefore prohibit discrimination against you in the workplace.Learning more about ADA cannot only help you save your job. It can also begin the process of putting in place certain accommodations that will help you perform your job.
Is Alzheimer’s disease a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act?
The Americans With Disabilities Act (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. Therefore, some people with Alzheimer’s disease will be considered disabled under the ADA and some will not.
In general terms, you will be considered disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. For more information about determining whether you are disabled under the ADA, visit AskJAN.org/corner/vol05iss04.htm
Start by talking with your employer
Before your condition significantly affects your ability to effectively do your job, schedule a meeting with your supervisor, human resources administrator, or both. Though it’s a difficult topic, a full conversation with your employer is vital for success.
• It’s helpful for a spouse and/or caregiver to be a part of the process. You should also all familiarize yourselves with your potential benefits. LINK TO ‘BENEFITS’ PAGE
• Contact your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if they have one.
• Explore your rights under the American With Disabilities Act at by visiting DOL.gov LINK and searching: ADA.
• The Job Accommodation Network can also be a helpful resource for getting your questions answered. Go to AskJAN.org, LINK where you will find options for calling or emailing a specialist.
Questions to consider regarding workplace abilities and accommodations:
What limitations am I experiencing?
How do these limitations affect me and my job performance?
What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems?
Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employer to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?Do supervisory personnel and co-workers need training regarding the affected employee’s accommodations?
Accommodating Employees with Alzheimer’s Disease
People with Alzheimer’s disease may develop various types of limitations. 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.
For Memory Issues:
• Provide a voice-activated recorder to record verbal instructions
• Provide written information
• Provide checklists
• Prompt employee with verbal cues (reminders)
• Post written or pictorial instructions on frequently-used machines or for routine procedures
• Provide templates or forms to prompt for needed information
• Remove marginal job functions to allow more focus on essential functions
• Use color-coding to indicate important information
• Extend training time when significant workplace changes occur
For Organization Issues:
• Minimize clutter
• Color-code items or resources
• Divide large tasks into multiple smaller tasks
• Avoid re-organization of workspace
• Label items or resources
• Use symbols instead of words
For Time Management/Task Completion:
• Provide verbal prompts (reminders)
• Provide written or symbolic reminders
• Arrange materials in order of use
• Use task list with numbers or symbols
• Provide additional training or retraining as needed
• Provide a timer and a recommended amount of time to complete tasks
• Provide a watch with multiple settings
• Rid desk or work area of clutter and items/materials not used
For Performing Job Duties:
• Retain as many job tasks as possible that the employee is familiar with and proficient in
• Remove marginal job functions to allow more focus on essential functions
• Incorporate simpler tasks from other employees’ job descriptions
• Consider a reduction in the work hours
• Alter when and/or how a job function is performed
• Reassignment to a position that better matches the skills and capabilities of the employee
Planning for accommodations
With assistance from your doctor, try to determine how quickly the disease may progress. This will help ascertain the long-term accommodations that may need to be made. As the disease progresses, job-related tasks will likely become more difficult for you to perform. Providing progressive accommodations so that the employee is able to continue working as long as possible may help to preserve their income and independence, as well as their self-esteem. Some adjustments or changes in accommodations may be necessary. Keep in mind that a job reassignment may become necessary in some situations.
Encourage your spouse, friend, or other family member to be a part of the process. It is helpful to have someone involved who is familiar with the effects of Alzheimer’s.
Case studies of situations and successful solutions:
• A finance manager with Alzheimer’s disease had difficulty learning new tasks and staying organized. 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 easily do some restructuring and find a position for the employee on one of the teams.
• A human resources manager at a large university had recently been diagnosed with Adult 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 seemed to be increasingly 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 take the time to contact his EAP and determine what benefits, work options, and next steps 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 necessary 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 Young Onset Alzheimer’s. The major difficulty he had been having was a compromised ability to find his way around the city. He drove a delivery truck, and thought a GPS device would enable him to navigate to specific locations. With information from his medical provider to substantiate the need for the accommodation, the caller submitted his request, and the use of the GPS proved successful.