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How Should I Handle Co-worker with Memory Problems

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Q. I am an office administrator in a very small office (just me, my boss, and my assistant; only my boss is full time). My assistant, a 71-year-old female, has been here a year. She has been having memory/retention problems and confusion. At first I figured it was just adjusting to a new job, but it seems worse lately. She understands things when you explain them, but does not retain the information. She or I write down instructions but she forgets to look at them. She seems to be backsliding and unable to do tasks that she could do a few months ago. You can give her only one thing to do at a time, even with written lists, or she gets them completely muddled or forgets to do them at all. She asks the same questions over and over.

She is VERY stressed by personal issues, including problems with two adult children, a brother with cancer, and a mother who at age 94 has been in a nursing home for many years and suffers from dementia. When something bad happens, it really throws her off. On a positive note, she seems fine when it comes to keeping track of the date, time, appointments, and so on, and looks forward to her crochet group every week, plus other social opportunities.

My concern is twofold: I have know this woman for years and am concerned for her health, safety, happiness, and economic picture. However, I’m also faced with hours of extra work each week undoing her mistakes and redoing her tasks.

Her annual review is in a week and I would like to go into it with positive suggestions and support so she can continue to work here with better (or at least not worse) results. Does anyone have any suggestions on steps that I could take to help her? Thanks!

How Should I Handle Co-worker with Memory Problems

Answered by on -


The answer depends on your goals. If your goal is job-focused only and she is no longer able to complete her work, then you may have to terminate her from the position. If your goals are to help her and be her friend, then possible termination will depend on a number of factors such as your relationship with her, how much time you are willing to spend re-doing her work, how much business or money you’re losing because of her, among others.

There are several ways you can approach this situation. You could allow her to remain an employee but decrease her responsibilities at the office, and hire someone else to fill the gap.

You can talk to her about your concerns regarding her health and suggest that she decrease her hours or take a leave of absence. She may not know be aware of her memory issues and bringing this to her attention may lead her to see a doctor. You could also attempt to speak to her family regarding this matter and get their advice and insights. As I mentioned above, how you handle this situation depends on what type of relationship you wish to have with her.

How Should I Handle Co-worker with Memory Problems

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Social Work and Forensics with extensive experience in the field of mental health. She works in private practice with adults, adolescents and families. Kristina has worked in a large array of settings including community mental health, college counseling and university research centers.

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2018). How Should I Handle Co-worker with Memory Problems. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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