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How a dementia diagnosis affects Social Security Disability

Older workers in Indiana, and elsewhere, could be facing the onset of dementia, making tasks they did every day on the job for years seem more daunting.

Employers must have difficult conversations with those valued employees. In turn, the employees likely will have a difficult time coming to terms with cognitive changes that are occurring.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) works to give rights to workers who are less than 100 percent, and that includes people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, depending on the level of impairment. Employers should work to find other jobs a valued employee can do or change how the existing job is done to continue on the job.

That could mean simply writing job instructions instead of giving them verbally so that they can be referred to should the employee forget. Or someone who has worked with heavy machinery, for example, could be switched to a nonhazardous desk job.

This is a difficult realization for some employees, who might downplay their symptoms to doctors so that they aren’t labeled as “disabled” in the workplace. They want to continue their job for more than financial reasons, including pride, independence and fear.

But you’ll want to be honest with your doctor if you are a worker facing a form of dementia.

The day likely will come that you need to leave the workforce and apply for Social Security Disability (SSD). Receiving disability benefits requires documentation from doctors, and it’s best to start that paper trail earlier rather than later.

“If a patient is adamantly opposed to having a certain diagnosis, they might be able to influence a certain doctor not to put that language into their medical record. And that can help you on the employment side,” a former human resources executive who faced early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at age 58. “If your employer wants to see medical documentation, you can show them papers that suggest you’re still well enough to work.”

But he acknowledged that is not the best long-term option because their approval for SSD could be negatively impacted by such a report.

As soon as you receive a diagnosis of dementia, you should consider the future, and that includes filing for SSD. Since the wait time for eligibility determination is long, you’ll want professional assistance so that you’ll know what steps to take.