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Clinician warns of effect of raising retirement age
Front cover of the March Science & Public Affairs
Raising the retirement age from 65 years to 70 years would mean that the total number of working age adults with dementia in the UK would rise three-fold, warns Dr Donald Brechin, a clinical neuropsychologist. Although it is seen as one way the Government could address a future pensions crisis, in an article in this month’s Science & Public Affairs, Dr Brechin, who runs the Teeswide Young Onset Dementia Team, Tees & North East Yorkshire NHS Trust, spells out the implications of such action.

Raising the retirement age to 70 could, on today’s figures, mean an additional 2.5 million people in the UK workforce; however, it would also mean that the number of working age people suffering from dementia would rise from 18,319 to 54,674, argues Dr Brechin.

“What is apparent is that raising the state retirement age is likely to bring economic costs as well as economic benefits,” he writes. “We may have to accept a workforce with higher rates of illness than at present, and the cost of this will have to be borne by employers and the state alike if the rights of workers are to be protected.”

Employers may be forced to sign a person off on medical grounds while symptoms are investigated, incurring costs for the employer and the state, not only in terms of paying for work which is not being done, but also in terms of lost productivity and having to bring in other workers to cover the absence. If dementia is diagnosed, the person should then have the option of retiring on medical grounds, thereby minimising the loss of earnings which they would incur by finishing work earlier than expected, albeit that this cost is borne by the employer’s pension scheme or the state pension.

“In today’s increasingly litigious society, there is also the potential for a backlash from employees who have been sacked but are later diagnosed with dementia,” warns Dr Brechin. “This could lead to an increase in the number of employment tribunals for unfair dismissal. In turn, this could lead to increasing pressure on employers to ensure that they have adequate occupational health screening in place to avoid dismissing people with early dementing illnesses.”

Dr Brechin also highlights a possible economic burden on the NHS. Whilst many people over 65 years of age with dementia are presently diagnosed by their GP or local old age psychiatry services, those under 65 years are often referred to neurology departments where more specialist testing facilities are available.

“If the retirement age were raised, more people might be referred through to the more specialist, and therefore more expensive, neurosciences departments. This might happen by virtue of occupational health departments having more people presenting with symptoms of dementia and referring on to the hospital services rather than GPs. Indeed, this might be encouraged by employers who wish to avoid claims of unfair dismissal and who want access to most specialist assessments available to them.”

Note for editors

1. The BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) is the UK's nationwide, open membership organisation dedicated to connecting science with people, so that science and its applications become accessible to all. The BA aims to promote openness about science in society and to engage and inspire people directly with science and technology and their implications.

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2. Science & Public Affairs if a quarterly publication of the BA. A full list of the contents of the latest edition can be found below. To receive a copy of a specific article, please contact the BA Press Office.


“Managing workplace stress” 
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“Dementia in the workforce”
Donald Brechin warns about the effect of raising the retirement age


“Smoking in public places”        
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“More flying will mean higher CO2 emissions”
The government will miss its targets, argues Paul Upham


“Dealing with nuclear waste”
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The Government’s proposals need amending, argues David Chaytor

“Research policy: the next five years”
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“The politics of pain” 
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“Science broadcasting in a new age”
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“GM foods: whose risk is it anyway?”
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“Plant science”
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“Off the planet”
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Sounding Off

“Science education”
Alistair MacFarlane says we must stop the slide

The Jack Harris column

“Scientists, Honours and Leakers”
Jack Harris spills the beans

SET in Parliament

“Revisiting human reproduction issues”
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