Alzheimer’s Should Scare Business Owners

Discussion
Aug 24, 2011
George Anderson

We often joke that we initially noticed our memory going right after receiving our first membership solicitation for AARP in our late forties. All of our memory lapses today are attributed to AARP moments.

There was no joke, however, in the revelation from The Washington Post yesterday that Pat Summitt, head coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Ms. Summitt, who has won more games than any coach of any sport in NCAA history, visited the Mayo Clinic three months ago after a series of troubling memory lapses.

According to the Post report, "A woman who was always highly organized had to ask repeatedly what time a team meeting was scheduled for. … She was late to practice. On occasion, she simply stayed in bed."

Ms. Summitt, contrary to what some may have expected, decided not to step down from her position. Instead, Ms. Summitt spoke with Jimmy Cheek, chancellor at the University of Tennessee, and athletic director Joan Cronan, to let them know of her diagnosis and her desire to continue coaching the Lady Vols.

The two administrators have thrown their support behind the coach.

"Life is an unknown and none of us has a crystal ball," Ms. Cronan said. "But I do have a record to go on. I know what Pat stands for: excellence, strength, honesty, and courage."

The situation faced by Ms. Summitt and her employer is being played out on an increasing basis across the U.S. as the population ages.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.4 million Americans are currently living with the disease. Roughly 200,000 under the age of 65, like Ms. Summitt, suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s. The number of deaths from Alzheimer’s rose 66 percent between 2000 and 2008 while other diseases such as breast cancer, prostate, heart disease, stroke and HIV claimed fewer victims.

The cost of Alzheimer’s is a human and financial tragedy for America.

In terms of actual dollars, the cost of Alzheimer’s will reach $183 billion this year, based on Alzheimer’s Association estimates. But caring for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia has other costs in terms of personal stress and lost work hours. The value of unpaid care provided to Alzheimer patients rose to $202.6 billion in 2010.

The Alzheimer’s Association has created a list of signs that a person may be suffering from the disease. These include:

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality

Discussion Questions: What does (will) the growing incidence of Alzheimer’s mean for American businesses? How should businesses deal with diagnosed cases of Alzheimer’s among their employees?

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12 Comments on "Alzheimer’s Should Scare Business Owners"


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Gene Hoffman
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Gene Hoffman
9 years 8 months ago
Who among us without any current signs of dementia hasn’t been forgetful at times? Probably nobody. The brain’s memory apparatus is a puzzlement, not a cause for punishment. That probably helps explain why the U. of Tennessee officials cut some slack for their remarkable coach, Pat Summitt. That’s also why Ms. Summitt, when diagnosed told her doctor, “Do you know who you are talking to?” Alzheimer’s is just one of the many possible attacks of aging. Since people live longer than in past eras, we will likely see more incidents of this dreadful disease in the business environment. Dealing with it will become increasingly costly. But so will the costs of treating many other illnesses of aging. Consider this: until diagnosed, Alzheimer’s reaches about 50% total recall. I believe businesses can still benefit from retaining the vast archive of acquired knowledge in the enterprise that still rests within the brain cells of vanishing memories. After that level of recallable knowledge has been medically determined, the affected human beings should be retired and be properly assisted… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 8 months ago
Having lost my father to Alzheimer’s, it’s really a sad disease and hopefully some of the new interventions will prove beneficial. First, let’s make sure sales people are taught how to relate to those who may seem a little confused and uncertain – especially the elderly. I’ve seen a lot of impatience and eye-rolling on the part of sales staff when an elderly customer isn’t being quick and sharp enough. Second, and I hope this is okay to mention here, I’ve recently come across a small company called Brain Advantage (.com website by the same name) who’ve discovered very unique and non-invasive, non-drug ways of stimulating the brain. They’re producing phenomenal results with Alzheimer patients. One who’d been living with the diagnosis for some time started writing coherent letters to various relatives and was generally much more aware of her circumstances in a remarkably short period of time. I mention this in the retail context because they’re also in discussion with a major sports company to put mini-clinics into sports stores and gyms. Virtually the… Read more »
Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
9 years 8 months ago

I think business should deal with Alzheimer’s the same way that the University of Tennessee is dealing with it. I applaud them for keeping Pat on as coach. As the disease progresses, there will be a time when she will not be able to work. In the meantime, keeping her mind busy will hopefully slow the progression and continue to provide benefit to the team.

Business is about more than just making money. At least it is at our company. It is a family. If we have the capacity to take care of each other, without the threat of losing the business, we should do whatever we can to ensure our employees are cared for. Companies who trade on Wall Street may not have that luxury, but those of us who have privately held businesses need to take care of our employees whether it’s Alzheimer’s, cancer, MS or any other tragedy that befalls them.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

My sincere best wishes and “atta girl” to Ms. Summitt, one of the most remarkable women of our era, for being forthright and willing to discuss her health issues publicly. It is moves like this by a person of prominence that leads to increased scientific advancements toward a possible cure. Michael J. Fox is another high profile spokespersons who immediately comes to mind. He has done great things with his efforts to cure Parkinson’s disease.

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

My mother is in her second year with this disease, and it is painful to watch someone you love slowly lose their ability to understand what is going on. I don’t know the answer to how to deal with this from an employee standpoint, because the risk of injury in the workplace, and other issues to contend with. Compassion is key here, and a lighter workload and work week is what I would consider, until it gets much worse. Tough discussion for me, as I’m living it as we speak.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

It’s a tragedy, and all I can say is “There but for the Grace of God go I.”

I applaud university management for being mensches. The woman has enough on her plate – she and her doctors will hopefully decide when work is too much.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
9 years 8 months ago
Thank you for bringing this topic to light. My wife works with Alzheimer patients and it is a devastating disease. Recent facts put forth by the Alzheimer Association estimate that 5.4 million people have Alzheimer’s disease, 1 in 8 older Americans have Alzheimer’s and 2/3 are women, all at an annual cost of $183 Billion! By 2030, the number of people aged 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is estimated to reach 7.7 million a 50 percent increase from the 5.2 million aged 65 and older currently affected. Given our current economic environment, the precarious future of Social Security, Medicare and the polarized discussion about the state of our healthcare system, more employees, particularly in service and retail jobs, will be in their 60s. Employers will need to proactively address this reality! There is a tremendous wealth of insight and experience that may be lost. We live in a digitally empowered world with extensive Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems and perhaps this opens the opportunity to capture, catalogue and manage the invaluable insights and experiences… Read more »
Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 8 months ago
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not only very serious issues for today’s businesses, they’re also issues that many businesses have given scant attention. For example, today’s employees are largely responsible for handling their own retirement planning, including very important financial and healthcare choices. And when making those choices, most consumers navigate a broad set of growing options that are often difficult to understand. The question for businesses is how to ensure employees and customers who may be experiencing cognitive issues don’t make bad choices – especially when many choices can be done via the Internet. And for consumers who have few family members or friends to rely upon, or for those who have limited access to quality, affordable healthcare, the situation is even worse. And while dementia and Alzheimer’s are certainly serious, they’re only part of the larger issue that many companies have yet to address: the overall impact of aging of America. Consumers live longer and the lifestyles these aging consumers live are much different than those of just a generation ago. And the current… Read more »
Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Alzheimer’s and dementia are tragic conditions that are likely to impact all of our families in one way or another, as the population ages. Businesses and associates within those businesses need to be candid with each other (much as Pat Summitt has been with the University of Tennessee), and then develop a plan as to how work-related matters are likely to be adjusted.

Associates have to be able to fulfill the tasks that are needed for the position — be they physical, mental, or human-interactions. But early-stage Alzheimer’s is definitely not grounds for dismissal. It may necessitate a change of position, and a coordinated plan to exit the company — both associates and the company benefit from this type of open-communication, even though this might initially be emotionally painful.

George Anderson
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

A big question involved in this issue is family and friends who are caregivers. There are tolls in terms of time (days off from work in many cases) and health (people engaged in caregiving have to deal with depression and other issues). As the population ages, businesses may need to make accommodations with valued employees to make the best of untenable situations.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 8 months ago

Most of the responses here have emphasized compassion and support, and in the case of friends and family members, I think that’s an entirely appropriate response. But a business isn’t a “family” (however much people like to use that expression): it exists to provide services; it provides jobs to employees; it provides income to shareholders…in short, people are dependent upon it, and it’s improper to endanger that dependency. The sad reality is that dementia is an irreversible and incapacitating condition, and the answer to the poll question must at some point become “yes” (and the more important in the organization the affected person is, the earlier that “yes” is likely to be needed).

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
9 years 8 months ago

Surely Pat Summitt will give others the courage to face this disease and to find new ways to deal with it. Businesses can explore further how they can provide services and benefits to customers and employees who are suffering with this disease.

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