Is It Possible to Work With Dementia? (And When Is It Time to Leave Your Job?)
In 2011, legendary basketball coach Pat Summitt announced that she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. She continued to coach the Tennessee Volunteers for another season with support from her staff.
While this seemed novel back then, Coach Summitt’s story is increasingly common today. Doctors are diagnosing dementia earlier and earlier. That means that many people—especially people with early-onset dementia—are trying to figure out how to manage their professional lives and their condition simultaneously.
If you or a loved one were recently diagnosed with dementia, you have options. Sometimes, you can manage your condition and workload—at least for a while. In this article, the disability insurance lawyers at Bryant Legal Group explore early-onset dementia and how it might impact your ability to work.
Doctors Are Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Earlier Than Ever
According to data from Blue Cross Blue Shield, early-onset dementia diagnoses increased by 200% between 2013 and 2017. While doctors sometimes diagnose early-onset dementia in 30-year-olds, the insurance company reports that the average age of these patients was 49.
If you are a younger person (under the age of 65) living with a dementia diagnosis, you might feel like you have a lot on the line. Unlike older dementia patients, your family might be relatively young. You probably have more financial obligations, like a mortgage or a child’s tuition bills.
However, now is not the time to bury your head in the sand. The more you prepare early on, the better situated you and your loved ones will be if or when your disease progresses.
The Stages of Dementia: An Overview
Dementia is much more than Alzheimer’s disease—although that is the most common dementia-related diagnosis. From mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Lewy body and vascular dementia, there are many diagnoses that fall into the spectrum of “dementia.” Different people will exhibit different symptoms—and their disease might progress at different rates.
Doctors typically describe three stages in a dementia diagnosis:
- Early dementia: During this period, you might notice mild memory loss, such as frequently losing objects or feeling absent-minded, as well as word-finding problems. In the past, early dementia was often undiagnosed, but this is changing. Many people continue to work with early-stage dementia.
- Middle-stage dementia: You or your caregiver might notice that significant memory loss is affecting your daily routine. You might neglect activities of daily living and personal care, like eating regular meals, bathing, and grooming. Some people develop mood changes and can become emotionally volatile. This is the longest stage for most dementia patients.
- Late dementia: In late-stage dementia, you require 24-hour care and quickly forget new information. You also might have a hard time communicating with your loved ones, walking, sitting, or even swallowing.
While your early-stage dementia symptoms might seem inconsequential, it is essential that you take action early on and start planning for your future. This might include drafting a power of attorney that names your personal representative, detailed financial planning, and considering your long-term care options (home care, respite care, assisted living, nursing home, etc.)
Can You Work With Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease?
Sometimes, people can continue to work for a period after being diagnosed with dementia. Coach Summitt, for example, wrapped up her final season with significant support from her coaching staff.
If you want to continue working, you should consult with your medical team and identify accommodations that can support you. Many people take pride in the fact that they could wrap up important projects, transfer their knowledge, or refer their clients or patients to another respected professional before they retired.
Your work and lifestyle accommodations might include:
- Adopting a more structured, consistent schedule or daily routine that includes rest and meal periods
- Avoiding high-stress or high-pressure situations
- Limiting distractions during important meetings or activities
- Transitioning to a more team-based approach that offers support and opportunities for collaboration
- Using calendars and other tools to keep track of your work
However, every case is different—and you should not put your pride above other people’s safety or welfare.
If your job requires attention to detail, precise calculations, or extreme mental acuity and decision-making, you might have to quit your job sooner—even if you can still perform routine, simple tasks. While healthcare and healing professions are the most obvious examples here, other highly skilled occupations and those involving physical hazards might also require a quick departure from the workforce.
Unable to Work Due to Dementia? Consider Filing for Long-Term Disability Benefits
When you or a family member are preparing for a life with dementia, long-term disability insurance will likely be part of your plan. You might have an employer-sponsored plan or a private policy that provides monthly income when you can no longer work.
Before you apply for disability insurance benefits, you should carefully review your policy’s language. While some policies will only pay monthly benefits to those who are completely unable to work, others will issue benefits if you are unable to do your current job. Some plans will even pay a residual or partial benefit if you return to a different, less difficult job.
If you need help understanding your policy’s terms and conditions, we can help you. Our team of experienced disability lawyers has helped disabled individuals recover millions in compensation and benefits—giving both them and their families peace of mind.
What to Look Out for in a Dementia-Related Disability Claim
Even if you think your dementia is undeniable, the disability insurance company might see your case differently. Sometimes, insurance adjusters will try to argue that disability insurance claims for dementia are limited to two years of benefits, citing the policy’s mental health or “self-reported symptoms” limitations.
Do not fall for this tactic. Dementia affects both your mental and physical health, and you might have a strong argument that these limitations do not apply to your claim. A skilled disability insurance lawyer can help you collect evidence, including brain scans and blood tests that document your condition.
Similarly, even if you have an “any occupation” policy, which only pays disability benefits if you cannot perform any type of work, do not assume that you are not disabled. Working with neuropsychologists, doctors, and other specialists, a lawyer might be able to show that your dementia makes it impossible to work.
Bryant Legal Group: Chicago’s Long-Term Disability Attorneys
Bryant Legal Group’s respected disability insurance lawyers are known for their sophisticated legal strategies and client-focused results. Whether you are preparing your long-term financial and care plan, or the insurance company denied your claim or limited your dementia-related benefits, contact our office for a free consultation. We can help you understand your legal options.
Early-Onset Dementia and Alzheimer’s Rates Grow for Younger American Adults. (2020, February 27). Blue Cross Blue Shield. Retrieved from https://www.bcbs.com/the-health-of-america/reports/early-onset-dementia-alzheimers-disease-affecting-younger-american-adults
Steele, M. (2016, June 28). Pat Summitt’s Death and Early Alzheimer’s. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/alzheimers/news/20160628/basketball-legend-pat-summitts-death-points-to-ravages-of-early-alzheimers
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.