Employment and young onset dementia

A diagnosis of young onset dementia often affects the person’s ability to work. Read more about how dementia may affect employment and how to manage the changes.

Young onset dementia and employment 

Dementia is a progressive, long-term condition. If someone develops the condition before the age of 65, it is known as young onset dementia.

Unlike older people with dementia, people with a diagnosis of young onset dementia often have:

a job or career

financial commitments, like rent/mortgage and building a pension

dependent children

a partner who is also in employment, and whose ability to work is affected by their caring role

While initially, a person with young onset dementia may be able to continue to work, it may become more challenging as their condition progresses.

This may eventually lead to them ending their working life earlier than planned.

Recognising the signs of young onset dementia in the workplace  

People in the early stages of dementia who are still working may:

  • have difficulties with concentration and orientation
  • find simple work tasks more difficult
  • make uncharacteristic mistakes
  • have problems with communication, such as finding the right words

This may result in distress, embarrassment, and a loss of confidence.

Work colleagues may be the first to recognise the signs of young onset dementia, but they might attribute them to another cause such as:

  • stress
  • tiredness
  • relationship issues
  • physical or mental ill health

Family members may recognise that the person is struggling at work, but not understand why.

An added complication is that younger people are more likely to have a rarer form of dementia that has different symptoms from the more common types – for example, changes to their personality, behaviour, and social functioning, rather than memory.

This can result in a delay in diagnosis, and in the person getting the support they need to keep working.

Employment rights and young onset dementia  

Employers may wrongly assume that the changes in the person’s behaviour, productivity or performance are intentional or controllable. As a result, they may start a performance management process, and in some cases, even terminate the person’s employment.

However, Dementia is classified in England, Wales and Scotland as a disability in the Equality Act 2010, and in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in Northern Ireland.

This means a person with the diagnosis has a legal protection from discrimination at work.

To ensure the person’s rights are recognised, it’s advisable for them to talk to their employer soon after their diagnosis.

If they feel uncomfortable talking to their immediate manager, they can speak to the Human Resources Manager.

Some occupations legally require the person with dementia to disclose their diagnosis. These include:

  • armed forces
  • healthcare professions
  • jobs that involve operating dangerous machinery
  • jobs that involve driving

If a person believes they are being discriminated against because of their dementia, they should first talk to their employer or Human Resources Manager to try to resolve the issue informally, also putting their concerns in writing.

All employers should have a written complaints policy. If the issue cannot be resolved informally, the person should follow the steps in the policy to escalate their complaint.

It may help to use a mediator or advocate at this stage. The organisation Acas can help with this.

Adjustments in the workplace for people with young onset dementia  

When the employer is made aware of the person’s dementia diagnosis, they should arrange an occupational health assessment to identify the support the person may need to help them continue to work.

An employment action plan should then be made with the person’s full involvement.

Possible reasonable adjustments to make working life easier may include:

  • allocating tasks individually, rather than all at once
  • giving advice on simplifying routines
  • providing a quieter workspace with fewer distractions
  • enabling supported homeworking
  • offering regular rest breaks during the day
  • providing assistive technology, eg alerts, reminders, voice recognition software
  • setting up a buddy scheme and regular support sessions
  • reduced hours (if needed or requested)
  • moving to a role with less responsibility (if needed or requested)

It may be helpful for the person with the diagnosis to tell immediate colleagues, as this may lead to them being more understanding and supportive.

Employment while caring for a person with dementia  

Partners or family members of a person living with dementia often have to change their working patterns or leave their employment altogether due to their caring responsibilities.

This may have consequences for their financial stability, mental health and wellbeing – and further into the future, it can be difficult for family members to resume their working lives after taking a break.

Flexible working patterns often allow people to continue to work while caring for someone with dementia.

Under the Flexible Working Regulations 2014, employers must consider these requests as long as the person:

  • has worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks
  • submits the request in writing
  • states whether there has been a previous application for flexible working, and if so, the date of that application
Alternative occupations and meaningful activities  

Having a job is not just about earning money. It can also provide purpose, a daily routine, satisfaction, social connections and a sense of normality.

If the person with dementia has reduced or stopped work, finding an alternative occupation or meaningful activity is important for maintaining wellbeing.

This could involve:

  • part-time employment either in the same field or a different one that utilises their knowledge and skills
  • volunteering
  • creative activities eg art, photography, singing
  • sport activities eg walking, running, swimming
  • further study or classes
  • campaigning
  • research
  • travel and exploring
Self-employment and young onset dementia  

A diagnosis of dementia can have a big impact on a person who is self-employed.

They may have to reduce their workload (perhaps taking on fewer projects or clients), allow extra time to complete tasks, make adaptations to their workspace (such as assistive technology), and eventually stop work altogether.

People who are self-employed and have a diagnosis of dementia may be able to claim certain benefits. These include:

  • Employment Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • Universal Credit
  • Disabled Facilities Grant

For more information on benefits that the person may be able to claim, see our information on financial help and support at dementiauk.org/financial-help 

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Publication date: December 2021
Review date: December 2023