Cognitive decline due to factors such as onset of a dementia can occur with aging and may impact on workplace health and safety as the workforce participation age extends (Silverstein, 2008). This issue is also compounded by evidence that: (i) dementia and other symptoms of cognitive decline can occur regardless of an individual’s age; (ii) and onset of symptoms is difficult to identify (Fox et al 1997, Brown et al 2005, Perkinson et al 2005). Decline in cognitive abilities can occur as part of the normal ageing process and onset of age related conditions such as dementia (Hunt et al 1997, Carr, Duchek & Morris 2000). For the person living with symptoms, cognitive changes can affect safety and productivity at work. There is also a potential increase in risk of injury for others in the workplace environment and the community. Approximately 15% of the Australian workforce is aged 55 and over, with 2% aged 65 and over (ABS 2013). We know that approximately 1 in 10 of all adults over 65 have some form of dementia (Sitzman 2003).
In line with Australian and international workforce trends, the average age of workers in NSW is increasing (Australian Government 2013) and is inclusive of workers in safety critical roles such as commercial drivers, machine operators and medical personnel. However, the ability to measure and self-monitor cognitive changes in task performance is problematic given that symptoms are progressive and delay in diagnosis can occur (Perkinson et al 2005). As government policies shift toward promoting increased workforce participation for all people, there is a need to understand the issues faced by people living with dementia and the organisations in which they are employed. A preliminary review of the evidence suggests strategies to recognise signs; monitor symptoms and support individuals with a dementia in the workplace may be limited (Sitzman 2003).
This proposal aims to explore implications of onset of dementia on individuals and organisations. Current policy and practices for managing cognitive decline that may influence a worker’s cognitive performance in the workplace will be investigated. Workplace participation enablers and barriers will be explored along with strategies to enhance decision making about the time to retire from work also be explored.