Dementia costing employers ‘billions’ as caring responsibilities force thousands to quit work

Research finds 112,000 people gave up work or retired early to look after relatives last year, as experts highlight employers’ ‘big role to play’ in supporting carers

Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia are costing employers billions as staff are forced to reduce their hours or quit their jobs to care for relatives, research has claimed.

A study, conducted by the Centre for Economic and Business Research for the Alzheimer’s Society, found that of the 355,000 people of working age caring for someone with dementia, 32 per cent have had to give up their job or retire early because of their caring commitments.

Another 41 per cent have had to reduce their hours or had difficulties balancing their work with their care responsibilities.

The Alzheimer’s Society estimates the cost of this to businesses in England amounted to £3.2bn last year, and predicted that this could rise to £6.3bn a year by 2040.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said as individuals struggle to find professional support to look after relatives with dementia, many “have no choice” but to leave their jobs.

“The knock-on cost to businesses is only going to get bigger, with more and more people set to develop dementia, and no solution put in place to sort out social care,” he said. “It’s devastating for people with dementia, devastating for their families and carers, a drain on the NHS and now we see how badly it’s affecting our economy.”

Hughes called on the government to introduce changes to social care provision to better support those who need dementia care.

Patrick Thomson, senior programme manager for fulfilling work at the Centre for Ageing Better, told People Management that employers also have a “big role to play” in supporting those with caring responsibilities. “Workplaces must be better for people balancing work with caring for loved ones,” he said. 

“The best thing for employers to do is be flexible from day one and to have open conversations with workers about the options available. Making small adjustments to how, when and where someone works, or providing the option of short breaks or periods of special leave if they’re needed, can make a life-changing difference.

“This is good for the worker, the person they care for and the employer, which is able to keep hold of a valuable, skilled and experienced member of staff.”

Research earlier this year found the UK workforce was also facing a growing number of ‘sandwich carers’, individuals who had to care for both children and dependent adults.

In the ONS survey, a third of respondents who cared for both sick, disabled or older relatives as well as dependent children were “just getting by” financially, and 41 per cent of these sandwich carers felt unable to work at all or as much as they would like.

Commenting at the time, Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK, said employers had to play a key role in understanding the stresses and challenges faced by sandwich carers if a “workplace crisis” was to be avoided. 

“No one should have to put on a pretence that they’re getting by at work. Openness and support should rule the day,” he said.