DEAR ABBY: My heart ached after reading the letter from "Stumped in California" (Feb. 4), who wondered what could be done about an older co-worker, "Anita," who she said was showing "signs of dementia." I would caution her about making judgments based on stereotypes of older workers and their health problems.
Like Anita, I am in my late 60s. I am also underwater in my mortgage, which means I have no nest egg. Because my husband is unemployed, my savings have been depleted. My short-term memory is poor, and the meds I am on to help me function do not improve my memory.
Anita may not have dementia. She may be suffering from unbearable worry and stress. I suggest putting out a hand in friendship to Anita instead of trying to diagnose her. -- FEELING IT TOO IN RICHMOND, VA.
DEAR FEELING IT: Many of my readers felt this one, and wrote to offer compassion to Anita as well as possible explanations for her slip in job performance. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Anyone experiencing marked and/or prolonged changes in mood, function and behavior should undergo thorough medical and/or psychological/psychiatric evaluation. Many treatable conditions can affect memory and concentration. The constant tearfulness observed by "Stumped" is a common symptom of depression.
If Anita's office has an Employee Assistance Plan, a supervisor or HR will know the procedure for referring her to an EAP clinician who can evaluate her and make recommendations for treatment, work-related considerations and follow-up. -- LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST, UPSTATE NEW YORK
DEAR ABBY: I am a state-licensed hearing instrument specialist. The commonalities between the symptoms of hearing loss and dementia are many. A person with hearing loss has a tendency to withdraw -- she's more apart from than a part of. Also, if she's having trouble remembering things she's done before, she may not have heard the request. (How can you remember something if you have never heard it?)
I encourage "Stumped" to talk to Anita about having her hearing tested. A hearing aid may be what she needs to help her perform better on the job. -- KNOWS FROM EXPERIENCE
DEAR ABBY: As a manager in the federal government, I had an employee who worked hard the majority of her life and did a great job. Suddenly, her performance began suffering. It didn't make sense to me how she could be so valuable at one point in her career, and then couldn't do the simplest task without goofing it up.
I sent her to a doctor for an examination, and we discovered that this "older woman" was having mini-strokes all day long! I was relieved to be able to retire her on disability, rather than destroying her life's hard work by firing her. And she was able to get help for a medical condition she wasn't aware of. -- RUTH IN FREDERICK, MD.
DEAR ABBY: Anita may have a thyroid problem. I had similar symptoms in my 40s, and it took two years for the right diagnosis. A blood test is all she would need to find out. -- HELPING HAND IN ORLAND HILLS, ILL.
DEAR ABBY: I am 67 and work because I can't live on Social Security. Perhaps Anita is facing the same problem and must work. My co-workers are supportive, and we have access to a wellness program to help us. She should check with Human Resources. Anita needs support, not criticism. Do not assume all seniors suffer from dementia. -- SEASONED WORKER IN TUCSON
DEAR ABBY: Technology is moving so quickly that people of all ages need to update their skill level constantly. The economy is hitting our seniors hard. Anita may be working to pay for medications. To "Stumped" I say: Get off your high horse and stop watching Anita "deteriorate." Help her! It might be you someday. -- P.J. IN MIAMISBURG, OHIO