Employers Learn to Be Alzheimer’s Friendly

Sitting in on one of the new Home Instead training workshops

When I read the New York Times exposé about Amazon’s sometimes brutal working conditions, one anecdote stuck out. An early member of Amazon’s Kindle team, Molly Jay, who’d received high performance ratings for years, found her status changed when she began traveling to care for her father suffering from cancer and cut back working on nights and weekends.

According to the Times, Jay’s boss told her she was “a problem” and blocked her from transferring to a less pressure-filled job. Once Jay’s dad was dying, she took unpaid leave to care for him and never went back to Amazon. “When you’re not able to give your absolute all, 80 hours a week,” Jay said, “they see it as a major weakness.”

Substitute “Alzheimer’s” for “cancer,” and you’ll see how some employers treat employees needing time to care for loved ones with dementia.

Alzheimer’s-Friendly Business Workshops

The new Alzheimer’s-Friendly Businesses program from the Home Instead Senior Care home care company may help prevent that from happening. And not a moment too soon. Today, 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and by 2025, 7.1 million people 65 or older will, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Home Instead franchises (there are 640 in the U.S. and Canada) just began offering employers free workshops training them how to assist employees who either have Alzheimer’s or care for others with the disease as well as their customers and clients with Alzheimer’s. I just sat in on one of those sessions in New Jersey and was impressed.

Alzheimer’s is becoming a huge workplace issue, so we felt we had a responsibility to help businesses and employees.

— Home Instead CEO Jeff Huber

“We’ve had special Alzheimer’s training for caregivers and, a few years ago, added training for family members of people with dementia — whether they use our service or not,” said Home Instead CEO Jeff Huber. “Alzheimer’s is becoming a huge workplace issue, so we felt we had a responsibility to help businesses and employees. It was a natural place to take our training.”

Once at least 10 percent of employees of an organization attend a workshop, Home Instead will give their employer its Alzheimer’s-Friendly Business designation and logo.

Alzheimers Friendly Businesses logo embed

Questions From a Home Building and Renovation Firm

At the workshop I attended in their Home Instead of Morris/Passaic Counties, N.J. office, Director of Community Relations Steve Tyburski and Executive Director Steve Sussman advised the leaders of Spectrum Construction & Development, a custom home builder and remodeling specialist in Succasunna, N.J. increasingly doing multi-generational reno projects.

“Some of our customers have had Alzheimer’s or are dealing with loved ones with it, and we thought it would be beneficial to learn more about this,” said Spectrum President Donald Dyrness. Added Spectrum Vice President Daniel Dyrness (Donald’s father): “We give customers guidance with the financial and legal aspects of bringing people into their home.”

The subject was also personal. Several relatives of the Dyrnesses and Office Manager Dorie Whittenburg, who also attended the workshop, have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “We watched the progression within our own family. It’s sad,” said Daniel Dyrness.

The workshop began with Home Instead’s advice to Spectrum about speaking with customers or their family members with Alzheimer’s. “Treat people [with Alzheimer’s] with dignity and respect,” said Tyburski. “Avoid arguing, since that can escalate to something very large and you can also avoid embarrassing the person.”

Also, he recommended, “Approach the person slowly and from the front. Sometimes, if you approach from the back or slap someone’s back, they may get startled and take a swing at you.” Sussman added: “They start to lose peripheral vision and won’t see you coming.”

Tyburski continued: “Speak at eye level, speak slowly and calmly with short, simple words. Use a comforting tone of voice. And allow the individual enough time to respond; sometimes they have to collect their thoughts.”

“Can the person be lucid at one point and not at another point?” asked Todd Urbanik, Spectrum’s Home Design Consultant.

“Yes. It can go in and out depending on the day or if the person started on a new medication which can slow symptoms down,” answered Tyburski. “If you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s, you’ve seen one case of Alzheimer’s.”

“It must be scary for them,” said Urbanik.

“And for their family members,” said Tyburski. He then suggested that if a customer, or customer’s family member, with Alzheimer’s makes an inappropriate comment or becomes disruptive, “try to redirect” him or her. “Sometimes this will work, sometimes it won’t,” he added.

If the person becomes argumentative, Tyburski said, “apologize and take the blame yourself, saying: ‘Sorry I misunderstood. My bad.’ And then try to move on.”

Making Homes Safer for People With Alzheimer’s

The discussion then turned to the actual work Spectrum does as it relates to Alzheimer’s.

Whittenurg asked: “For our business, what are some of the top things to know if someone is bringing a loved one into the home?”

“Paint color. People with dementia can lose depth perception,” said Sussman. “So it’s good to paint some hallways one color and others another. In the bathroom, paint the back wall a different color and make the floors and walls a different color.”

Daniel Dyrness offered a personal tip: “When my father-in-law was wandering in our house, we put in motion detector lights in the hallways. That way, the light went on and he went right back to bed.”

As the workshop ended, Sussman said: “One reason we are doing these workshops is we don’t want to turn away from Alzheimer’s. You need to interact with people that have it, so they don’t feel isolated.”

How to Attend an Alzheimer’s-Friendly Business Workshop

To sign up for a Home Instead Age-Friendly Business workshop, either contact your local Home Instead franchise or sign up for training online at Alzheimersfriendlybusiness.com.

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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