By Sharona Hoffman
As the American population ages, employers must contend with the growing challenge of cognitive decline in the workplace.
Cognitive decline becomes more common as individuals age. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years after age 65, and almost one-third of people over 85 have the disease. And, as detailed in my book, Aging with a Plan: How a Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow, the American population is aging. By 2034, about 77 million people will be seniors, accounting for 21% of U.S. residents.
Additionally, many professionals work past retirement age. For example, over 31% of physicians are over 60, and 15% of attorneys are over 65. The average age of federal judges is 69.
Considered together, these trends substantiate concerns about the increasing prevalence of cognitive decline in the workplace. Recent research provides further support: when Yale New Haven Hospital tested clinicians on staff who were seventy and older, it found that almost 13% had significant cognitive deficits.
Older employees often bring a wealth of experience and highly refined skills to their jobs. They can therefore add great strength to the workforce. Yet, employees with cognitive decline can cause a multitude of complex challenges in the workplace. They can threaten workplace productivity, workforce morale, and even public safety.
How might employers address cognitive decline concerns? As I argue in my article “Cognitive Decline and the Workplace” (forthcoming in the Wake Forest Law Review), there are several options, but many are legally and ethically problematic.