I am a volunteer with the Alzheimer's Disease Association. As the population of Singapore continues to age, the risk of dementia increases, and it is a general perception that it affects those in their 70s and above.
Lately, we have come to know of people with young-onset dementia, affecting generally those under 65 years of age. A few are in their 40s.
My layman's understanding is that medical practitioners are not too eager to pronounce in writing that a patient has dementia. Perhaps, it is because there are many boxes to check off.
The continued push by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for employers to keep ageing workers on their payroll for as long as they are able to do their jobs, or redesigned ones, has gained some traction. Paradoxically, this gives rise to potential scenarios where a mature worker begins to show signs of dementia, without being officially diagnosed as a person with dementia, or not being able to do his normal job.
It's time for MOM to come up with some guidelines. These guidelines must balance the interests of employers and workers.
Human resource practitioners must begin preparing their organisations to handle such potential situations, and one of the first steps is to gain a much better understanding of dementia. They must collaborate with community dementia management organisations.
The worst thing that can happen is for a job to be taken away prematurely, causing the person with dementia to be hit with a double whammy - managing the deterioration of his mental health, and losing his ability to earn an income. This could exacerbate the situation, resulting in a loss of self-esteem and confidence, and a possible downward spiral to depression.
Employers must be compassionately pragmatic. Society, as a whole, must also view dementia with positivity and embrace persons with dementia.