Cognitive challenges in the workplace.

Author:Becker, Joel
Position:Report
 
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"For an employee experiencing cognitive and emotional decline due to a medical condition, injury, or compromised cognition, the EAP provides a source of hope both to that individual and to their employer."

It is an undeniable reality that Americans are now compelled to work later into their lives. As a result, our country's workforce has increased in age. This phenomenon is the result of a number of factors, including increased longevity, tougher economic times, and modifications to retirement options. Unfortunately, the aging process is often accompanied by cognitive decline and the anxiety of adapting to a changing workplace. Even in younger people, illness, injury, effects of medications or surgery, and/or genetic predisposition can adversely affect productivity and job sustainability.

In this article, I will highlight key cognitive functions that have particular relevance for working individuals. I will also address specific contributions that can be made by employee assistance professionals as an important resource in identifying and supporting employees that become cognitively challenged.

The EAP offers an invaluable service to both employees and employers in screening, treating, and devising an effective treatment plan with appropriate accommodations to reintegrate the employee into the workplace. For an employee experiencing cognitive and emotional decline due to a medical condition, injury, or compromised cognition, the EAP provides a source of hope both to that individual and to their employer.

With some employees, the transformation is rapid and dramatic as a result of injury or disease; in others it may be gradual and subtle as part of cognitive changes occurring in the normal aging process. As a result, age-related changes have become more common, along with a higher incidence of neurological conditions in older employed adults. They include:

Signs and Symptoms of Cognitive Decline

* Increased difficulty with learning and retaining new information;

* Periods of confusion and decreased alertness;

* Increased reliance on instruction repetition and reiterated reminders;

* Taking longer to complete a given task;

* Inability to sustain multitasking;

* Lower frustration threshold/ more easily angered;

* Decrease in motivation;

* Apparent lack of engagement, loss of work ethic and energy;

* Avoidant, apathetic, less socially interactive;

* Depression and withdrawal;

* Difficulties with coordination and balance;

* An observable tremor;

* Speech/articulation difficulty; and/or

* Worsening of mood or intensification of an affective disorder.

Case Study #1: Cognitive impairment caused by concussion

Jeff is a 58-year-old senior computer engineer at a major information technology company. Three months ago, while cleaning the roof gutters on his house, Jeff fell from a ladder and landed on his head. He was seen at a local ER and diagnosed with a concussion. After seven days of convalescence, Jeff was cleared by his family physician to return to work.

However, what followed was an unexpected series of challenges that neither Jeff, his internist, nor his supervisor could ever have anticipated. Jeff first discovered something was wrong after a few days back on...

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