my coworker is having serious memory issues

A reader writes:

I work in a small office without a typical HR rep. “Mike,” our manager, oversees our company and unfortunately takes a head-in-the-sand approach to anything office drama related.

Our concern is with our office manager, “Michelle,” who has been with our company for 15 years. She oversees our accounting and customer service related matters. Overall she is a great mentor and has taught me a lot. But in the last few months, she seems to be having memory lapses that we feel are more serious than simple brain fog. She is in her early 60’s and in decent health. No obvious health conditions and she’s not taking medications that would immediately explain her symptoms.

Michelle will frequently forget about business conversations from the day before. This causes her to repeatedly ask us about how tasks are being completed. In the beginning, we politely pointed out that it’s been discussed or completed. Now it’s really starting to get annoying because it interrupts our workflow. She randomly misses emails from clients and claims she never got them, even though they are clearly in her inbox. She also repeatedly sends emails to our employees or clients, having no recollection of when it was originally sent. If we point it out, she’ll get defensive and blame it on “brain fog” from being busy.

A couple weeks ago, we all were discussing our lunch plans. Michelle mentioned multiple times that morning that she felt like pizza. We saw her order her lunch and she said she would pick it up after she ran some office errands. When I came back an hour later, she was eating a sandwich at her desk. I asked, “Oh, did you change your mind about pizza?” She looked at me like I was crazy. Shortly after, the pizza place called asking when she was going to pick up her order. She was adamant she did not order anything and she must have accidentally ordered it on their app. Cue the WTH looks.

It escalated the other morning when she got really mad at our IT guy and accused him of “changing” her computer layout. She also couldn’t remember how to log in to our accounting software, something she does multiple times a day. He was quite pissed that she basically accused him of logging into her account without her permission. When he confronted Mike about it, he basically brushed him off and shooed him out of his office.

Mike has been getting complaints from our clients about Michelle repeatedly sending the same email or blanking out about who they are when they call. He will then come out of his office and find something stupid to be mad at instead of addressing Michelle.

Our office is genuinely concerned for Michelle. Neither she nor Mike seem receptive to addressing it. Should we all confront Mike at once? We feel like part of his problem is that Michelle has worked there for so long and he doesn’t want to face the reality of what’s happening. We would like to address this before it seriously affects our business operations.

This is awful — it does sound like Michelle is struggling with serious memory issues and might not be aware of it, or at least not aware of the extent of it.

If Mike knows everything you’ve described here and is declining to act, he’s being horribly negligent, both in his job as a manager and as a human toward Michelle.

My hunch is that he might feel uncertain about what he can do legally or ethically, and probably feels uncomfortable addressing the situation with Michelle. That doesn’t excuse him from needing to do it though — and if he doesn’t know how, part of his job is to find out.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, when an employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee’s ability to perform essential job functions is being impaired by a medical condition, they can require a medical exam. Requiring medical exams is a serious thing and not something to be taken lightly. The ADA allows it only in situations like this, or others where it’s “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

After that, the law would require Mike to enter into what’s called an interactive process with Michelle, where they would work with her doctor to try to find accommodations that would allow her to do her job. The Job Accommodation Network has a list of possible accommodations for memory issues.

Mike should start by documenting how Michelle’s memory struggles are affecting her job, and then talking with her about what he’s seeing. He should do this from a place of genuine concern for her, not just the work — although he needs to be up-front about the impact he’s seeing on her work as well. This is a hard conversation to have, but it’s far less kind to ignore what’s right in front of all of you.

And before he does any of this, Mike should talk to an employment lawyer for guidance since you don’t have HR. A lawyer can help guide him through each step.

But it sounds like Mike isn’t going to do any of this without a lot of pushing, and maybe not even then. You certainly could try talking to him as a group — laying out the problem and how serious it is, and how unfair it is to Michelle and the rest of you to pretend it’s not happening. It’s possible that he’ll find it harder to ignore a group of you.

If he still refuses, do any of you have the kind of rapport with Michelle where you could have a compassionate, discreet conversation with her where you explain what you’ve noticed and suggest she talk with a doctor? In a lot of workplace situations this would be an overstep, but I don’t think it would be one here.

{ 266 comments… read them below }

    1. I'm fabulous!*

      Same. Is it possible to document what’s been happening to show valid concerns to Michael? Does she have an emergency contact that can be brought into the conversation?

      1. Choggy*

        Yes, this, it should not be up to someone’s coworkers to talk to Michelle about her memory issues unless there is no one else who could intervene on her behalf. If this is as noticeable in the office, I would expect it to be outside the office as well.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          A lot of times family can be in denial for far too long, and having coworkers go look, we’ve seen XYZ can actually help.

        2. Electric sheep*

          Also people might be operating in less complex environments at home where issues aren’t as apparent, especially if they live alone and only see other people for shorter periods. The issues may show up at work first.

      2. Punctuation Pedant*

        I originally read this as:

        A lot of times family can be in denial for far too long, and having coworkers go “Look, we’ve seen XYZ can actually help.”

        I’m assuming what you meant to was this:

        A lot of times family can be in denial for far too long, and having coworkers go, “Look, we’ve seen XYZ” can actually help.

        I was puzzling over what XYZ meant and how coworkers knew it would help when it finally dawned on me, lol!

        Punctuation matters. Sometimes the whole meaning of a sentence can be changed by it, as in this joke:

        A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

        “Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.

        “I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

        “Eats shoots and leaves” means something quite different from “Eats, shoots and leaves.” Same words, different punctuation. See the book, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynn Truss for more. (No, I did not write that book. If I had, it would be called “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.”)

    2. Federal employee drone*

      Yes. One of my closest office friends—with whom I have worked at three consecutive jobs, had to take medical retirement in 2021 due to dementia (not sure what kind and it doesn’t matter anyway).

      I hope the woman in this story gets the help and care she needs.

      1. Reluctant Mezzo*

        I do, too. My husband retired from being a chemistry teacher because of chemo brain, and he didn’t want to forget stuff in the lab.

      2. Punctuation Pedant*

        Sorry, that was supposed to be a reply to goddessoftransitory

        Sometimes I think this forum is infested with threading gremlins. if I had a dollar for every post I’ve seen here that ended up as a reply to the wrong comment or as a stand alone comment when it was meant as a reply, I’d have the beginnings of a nice little nest egg by now. ;-D

        1. Punctuation Pedant*

          And the above was meant to be a ply to my own post above. $#%@&! threading gremlins! X-D

    3. Sonya*

      I worked with a teacher in 2009, suddenly she was not making any sense.
      Her kids took her to the dr.
      She died 2 weeks later, due to a brain tumor

  1. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

    Oh man, I am so sorry for her. I really hope she gets treatment, and that we get an update.

    1. Lisa Simpson*

      Some memory issues don’t come with treatment. They come with increasing degrees of required support, until the person passes. Not everything can be cured.

      1. Clisby*

        That is very true. It was true of my mother. But sometimes, memory issues can be caused by things that can be treated, so she needs to find out. Of course, for all we know, she has found out, and is just trying to hang on because … this is her life.

        1. Overit*

          Agreed. The mother of a friend was put in a care faculity due to memory issues. A new doctor came on staff amd ran a battery of tests and turns out she had a bad (but symptomless) UTi and that can cause dementia-like symptoms. Within short order, her UTI was gone and so were her dementia symptoms. She lost a year of her life to a misdiagnosis.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            Chronic low blood sugar will do it, too, or an undiagnosed TIA, both of which are treatable.

          2. Emma*

            Yes – a former colleague had an older neighbour who gradually got more confused and forgetful over about 8 months. My colleague had always helped her out with shopping etc but she was getting calls at work from this neighbour panicking because she thought the boiler repairman had stolen things from her, but he hadn’t even been in yet etc. Social services were considering intervening to force her to move into residential care when someone finally ran a test and diagnosed a chronic UTU, after a few weeks of antibiotics she was back to her old self. Scary.

      2. Seachelle*

        dementia is a scary possibility for many of us unfortunately. my mom has had it for several years though and is doing well with increasing levels of support, shes now in her mid 80s and still loves being a grandma. She was already retired in her 70s when she was diagnosed. its unfortunate this if this woman does have dementia, it will affect her ability to work.

      1. Academic Anon*

        I know someone who got contacted by his wife’s work due to them noticing a downturn in her work. Since she was not being evaluated at home, he had not noticed that his wife was struggling with memory. Her work was detail oriented, so the decline was seen earlier than it was at home.
        While academia (deservedly) get roasted on this blog, this particular university worked hard to make sure that short and long term care insurance meshed and that the husband did not have to worry about finances at the same time as dealing with the eventually fatal dementia.
        It is a sad situation and is my personal nightmare to lose my memory and not know it is happening, second only to knowing it is happening.

    2. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

      Following up (Allison, please delete if you feel this is derailing the conversation): while intervening can be uncomfortable, it could also be vitally important to both her life and those around her. I don’t just mean in terms of diagnosis and treatment.

      Case in point: my grandmother has Alzheimer’s. One on occasion, before diagnosis, she was driving across state lines and got confused, with no clue where she was or where she was going. She turned up at an IHOP and a employee found our contact info in her purse and called us. We don’t know where she would have ended up otherwise.

      On another, she and my grandpa were at their house. Grandpa had a stroke. Grandma watched it happen and did nothing–it just wasn’t clicking in her head. A neighbor called an ambulance. Hours later, Grandma “woke up” and couldn’t find my grandpa. Called us in a panic. It took hours for us to figure out that he’d been taken to a hospital and was still there, alone. He would have died if the neighbor hadn’t intervened.

      I know OP can only do so much at work, but these kind of memory issues have very real consequences. I know contacting family members usually feels like an overstep, but in this case I wonder if it might be justified. Maybe I am looking toward the extreme side, given my personal experience, but I feel like this is a safety issue–I think some professional norms can be changed when the safety of an employee is in question.

      1. Dahlia*

        Yeah, I’m generally on the “don’t interfere with peoples’ personal life” train but this is a big deal, and if no one is comfortable talking to her family, I would seriously look at contacting any local authorities like APS about a wellness check, because this is something that is becoming unsafe.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          It really is. I’ve read too many stories about a driver hitting pedestrians because their memory of brake/gas or other driving skills lapsed at the wrong time.

      2. DD26*

        Years ago we had an admin who suddenly started having issues completing tasks and getting her work done. Her boss was getting frustrated and was considering putting her on a performance plan. We were all concerned, this was so unlike her

        Another admin finally decided to just go ahead and mention what was going on to the daughter, who also worked at our office.

        She had early onset Alzheimer’s and since the other admin told them what was going on, they were able to get her on disability. Her family really had no idea.

    3. Lisa from Temecula*

      It’s also possible treatment for another condition is causing this issue. One example: Statins (for cholesterol) are known to cause cognitive issues and they’re widely prescribed. My mom was prescribed them in her 50s and she experienced brain fog to the point where one day she suddenly realized she was on the other side of the city (in her car) and couldn’t remember how she got there. She got lost driving home from work in an area she’s lived almost her whole life. Needless to say she quit taking the statins and spoke to her MD. Luckily the symptoms went away.

      1. njn*

        This happened to my mother in her early 60s. She was prescribed statins for slightly elevated blood pressure and a family history of heart disease, and within a few weeks began forgetting entire conversations. When this was brought to her attention she angrily denied the conversations had ever taken place – probably due to fear (her mother-in-law spent 15 years in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s). When she also started experiencing significant leg pain (another side affect of statins), her doctor took her off the statins and there were no more memory problems.

        1. Lizzo*

          Heavy duty painkillers can also interfere with short-term memory. I took some daily for a week while recovering from an accident that injured one of my extremities, and had problems for close to six months thereafter remembering important details at work (and I had a track record of remembering details and being very good at my job, so this was definitely a serious change).

      2. Fierce Jindo*

        Benzodiazepines can do this, too. I was surprised that the OP said Michelle isn’t on any medications; how would they know? All the more reason for someone to talk to Michelle, kindly and as soon as possible. There may be an actual solution.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      She really NEEDS an evaluation, stat. This could be so many things, from dementia to abusive Benadryl use to hormonal changes. And soon, before she forgets something like a pot on the stove or her route home.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        My mom was on calcium for osteoporosis, and quinine for the resulting leg cramps.
        At some point her doctor took her off calcium, but her quinine scrip was from a different doctor in a different province.

        Did you know calcium actually absorbs quinine, and large doses of quinine running around in your system can make you delirious?

        As an added bonus, the hospital in that town had a contaminated batch of opioid tests. We spent a YEAR trying to figure out how my mother was getting access to methadone.

        Doctors couldn’t work it out, care home couldn’t work it out, the COPS couldn’t work it out.
        Pharmacist cracked it in an hour.

        Conclusion: once a year or so, get your pharmacist to look at all of your prescriptions together, and especially get them to look at the scrips of any older people in your family, who have assorted health issues and may have been quietly piling up meds they’re on for years without a comprehensive review.

        And yeah, lots of health-related stuff is an overreach in a workplace but when the person this clearly lacks any awareness of the problem, I feel like as human beings whoever notices it first has some responsibility to act, even if it’s really awkward.

  2. Random Dice*

    This is such a hard letter to read.

    The OP is clearly struggling to balance the genuine compassion they feel, with concern about the business impact.

    1. Helmswoman*

      it’s so sad, we’ve had a similar situation in my office which has had huge impacts throughout the team. the struggling employee has just taken retirement, but getting to that point has taken a massive toll. I really feel for this letter writer.

    2. Zarniwoop*

      Both her we’ll be and the business’ well being are ill-served by her and the boss’ denial. Her denial can be explained/excused by the condition she’s suffering from, but I really hope the boss does the hard but compassionate thing and addresses the fact that something’s wrong.

  3. rayray*

    This is a sad situation. She may have an actual medical issue here.

    A relative of mine went through something similar, he was an attorney and he had a small office of people – many had been there for years and one employee was my aunt and his cousin. I guess because of the closeness that can be had in an office like that, there’s a different level of comfort and less red tape in bringing these issues up. I can’t remember exactly how things transpired, I think maybe someone spoke to his wife about it. It turned out that he had early onset Alzheimer’s and he passed away a few years ago. I really don’t think this sudden change in Michelle should be ignored or taken lightly. It may or may not be serious, but no matter what, it really should be addressed sooner rather than later. There are other medical issues that could be causing this where early intervention may save her life.

    1. MommaCat*

      Similar thing happened with my mother, but she got fired and her being home all the time helped us see how serious her memory issues were. Also early onset Alzheimer’s, also died a few years later. We got her to the doctor by saying it might be a hormone issue, because she did NOT want to believe she might have Alzheimer’s in her 50s.

      1. Artemesia*

        Almost never are these issues really treatable — but SOMETIMES they are. There can be cardiovascular issues that can be helped, there can be hormone issues. So a thorough medical workup is essential; imagine being convinced you have AD and trying to ‘fake it’ as long as you can when it might be something treatable.

        I really feel for this woman as especially if she is single and doesn’t have good family support there is very little aid available. It is catastrophic.

        1. Red Wheel Barrow*

          Yes, it’s important to check for treatable conditions, even if you suspect it may be untreatable. I had mild, then moderate memory loss for weeks, and only when it escalated to the point where I was forgetting common words, and my therapist told me to go to the ER (he suspected a stroke), did I learn that I had lithium poisoning triggered by a drug interaction. Fortunately it hadn’t gone too far and was 100% reversible. Conditions like this can sneak up on you, and it’s hard to figure out what to do about them when your brain isn’t working properly! I’m not saying it’s the LW’s or the manager’s job to involve themselves in diagnosis or treatment, though; this is just what I’d say to the employee if I were her friend or family member.

        2. The Starsong Princess*

          Agreed. My mother was struggling and I thought that she had Alzheimer’s. I made the appointment and took her to the doctor. Turns out she had a chronic UTI and was taking another medication that can impact memory. She got the infection cleared up and changed medications – she was back to herself soon after. She’s 80 and her memory isn’t perfect but she’s living her life. This woman needs to get checked out!

          1. Venus*

            From personal experience with family:
            UTIs are relatively common in the elderly and any infection often impacts memory and behavior. In long-term care homes behavioral problems can prompt them to test for infection.

            From what I have read on the internet:
            Medications can also be a cause, especially if someone is taking multiple meds and interactions between them are unexpected. Also older bodies are sometimes slow in processing the medication so it might build up to unsafe high levels.

            Michelle sounds like she’s having problems with dementia, but there is always hope that it can be helped with a visit to her doc.

          2. Strawberry Shortcake*

            My grandfather’s mental condition also deteriorated rapidly whenever he had a UTI. As soon as it was treated, he’d be back to paying bills and driving to the grocery store without issue.

    2. Anonymous 75*

      Yeah there may need to be some serious consideration about relaying this info to her family as well. They may be noticing something at home as well and dismissing it as stress from work, not happening that much, etc .

      I do hope she’s okay.

      1. rayray*

        Yeah, this is exactly what happened here. I think when someone talked to her about it, she realized she had also noticed he had memory issues and changes in behavior.

    3. TooWhit*

      A family member of mine had brain cancer that was first noticed by his boss. He had worked there a long time, and the boss called a meeting with my uncle and his wife to bring up the issues. To this day I am so grateful he did.

      1. Carlie*

        A colleague of mine developed major memory issues. Cross-talk between work friends and family helped convince them to see a doctor. Turned out to be due to reduced blood flow in a blocked artery, and a couple of stents later they were back to regular function. There are many things that might be causing Michelle’s problem, and encourangement from all sides to get it checked out is warranted.

    4. AnotherSarah*

      Yes–this sounds like my mother a few years ago–she ended up on a PIP and then getting fired. Her cognitive decline has only gotten worse, and I think that understanding that it’s potentially a medical issue and not simply a performance issue is really key to address. In my mom’s case, she claimed age discrimination and filed a complaint but no one encouraged her to see a doctor. If there is any way whatsoever to involve a family member, that seems important, though I’m not sure how you could do it ethically. But certainly if there’s a day she’s seeming more confused than usual, I don’t think it would be out of line to call an emergency contact–just like you would if you thought something sudden (concussion, something like that) had happened.

    5. Allornone*

      My stepmother (who is fortunately retired) is experiencing significant cognitive decline lately as well. Doctors haven’t been able to diagnose just what it is that’s causing it, but there is definitely something very wrong. It’s so hard to watch. She’s a proud woman who doesn’t want to admit she’s not what she used to be, and watching both she and my dad struggle with the effects has been heartbreaking. It’s a terrible situation all around.

      1. Artemesia*

        My Dad was showing signs years before he was diagnosed at 65 and in the last years of his job (literally as a rocket scientist) his boss carried him so he would have full pension. He was diagnosed at 65 and then lived another 15 years in steep decline cared for by my mother. It was nightmarish and of course totally consumed her ‘good’ retirement years. A truly sad diagnosis that of course most of us, especially with family history, fear.

        1. Tabitha*

          This is the exact thing that happened to my dad (minus the rocket scientist, he was a psycologist). We’re on year 11 with my mom as primary caretaker. I can attest that it is a nightmarish situation. I’m so sorry that your family went through this.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        It’s just God-awful. My dad’s decline was heartbreaking, and when he had a stroke it was horrible but honestly a relief–there was nothing for him to “recover” to, he wasn’t going to regain enough function to be anywhere but his previous levels of disorientation and bewilderment.

    6. RussianInTexas*

      My dad got the early and fast onset dementia (not Alzheimer’s) last year.
      Luckily his company allowed for him to go on the 6 months medical leave and then retire. His long-term boss really went to the bat for him.

    7. Lilo*

      My grandfather surrendered his law license after his stroke because he couldn’t ethically continue to practice law with a cognitive impairment. My Dad has to undergo regular cognitive tests to keep working as a doctor at 70. For certain professions it’s particularly crucial.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. My aunt had epidemic nepropathy in her early 50s. It’s spread by the Puumala virus that’s endemic in bank voles here. There’s no cure, but my aunt was in hospital for a total of 10 weeks, 4 of those in a medically-induced coma. My aunt was an MD, and following the nepropathy she got regular checkups for symptoms of dementia. She retired on disability at 60 and a few years later she had deteriorated to the point that she needed care round the clock. She was a widow and her only child lived abroad, but fortunately she got a place in a care home. She spent a year or so there before she died.

    8. Willow Pillow*

      “This is a sad situation. She may have an actual medical issue here.”

      Does anyone believe that she doesn’t have an actual medical issue? I get why qualifying language makes sense to use in general, but in this case it echoes the dismissive things that doctors tell women way too frequently.

      1. There You Are*

        @Willow Pillow – I read it as “Actual physical issue that isn’t ‘just’ dementia or cognitive decline.”

        Which is still problematic because brains are physical, and things like cognitive impairment or emotional dysregulation are actual medical issues, too.

        But I realize that we as a society still put brain disorders and mental illnesses in a completely separate category than illnesses that affect the rest of the body.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          I agree on both counts… this makes it worse for me in way. I have my own short-term memory problems (autistic, I’ve learned how to compensate) and it really does feel like that stigma contributes to the reluctance of people to seek help*.

          *other than drastically underfunded public healthcare systems

        2. Boof*

          I’m gonna say that dementia is very different from stress induced forgetfulness (ie, extreme grief) is very different from a uti is very different from drug side effects or abuse. I was worried a relative i live with had dementia and it turned out they had an alcohol problem that was honestly a total shock; in some ways a relief because it’s eminently more treatable than most dementias, even if the whole explicitly lying about it was a serious blow to trust and judgment we’re doing ok. Idk we need categories to understand things and bio/psych/social are intwined but doesn’t mean there categories aren’t relevant

      2. Gerry Kaey*

        none of us are doctors though and we do not know this person and there are explicit rules against armchair diagnosing on this site. I do not interpret this couching
        as dismissive, i see people couching because they’re not in a position of proximity or authority to make a hard and fast statement. the entire response and comments section is acting under the assumption that this woman does have a medical condition, but at the end of the day, assuming is literally all we can do as readers.

        1. Boof*

          I am a doctor and the last thing I’d attempt to do is diagnose someone’s memory issues though a second hand account on the internet XD
          I think comments of “did you think about how it might be _____!” are probably not helpful but comments about “here is how it was really helpful that work did ___ for something that seems similar!” are

        2. rayray*

          This is exactly why I worded it that way. I have not seen this person for myself and am only going off what I heard. I do feel I can confidently say that it is a wild leap to say that I am dismissive of a woman’s health simply because I did not say with affirmative language that this person is suffering.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            And yet there’s an update two posts after this one about bias against women being so pervasive that a woman didn’t believe it…

        3. Willow Pillow*

          Giving someone the benefit of the doubt that they’re not intentionally neglecting their work is not armchair diagnosis. “There has to be something underlying” is not armchair diagnosis. There is room for that to be the case, sure, but starting from a presumption of good faith makes those difficult discussions easier.

          Note that this is “presume” vs. “assume” – the former is backed with some sort of evidence and the latter is not.

    9. Annony*

      It is also important to keep in mind that it could be treatable. I had something similar happen. I started to have memory gaps that I didn’t know about. I would send the same email multiple times, have no idea I had been in a meeting, things would be moved around in my workspace and at home. I swore I hadn’t had conversations that everyone else remembered. At one point I ran into a coworker in the hallway that worked in a different building and was talking about how it had been so long and how are they? They looked at me like I was crazy and said “We had a meeting yesterday. Are you ok?” Turns out that I had epilepsy and was having small seizures that wiped my short term memory. First medication they tried, it was like a fog lifted.

      1. I have RBF*

        In the run up to the gran mal (that led to my AVM being discovered and ultimately be removed) I has a lot of TIAs – short blankouts, not enough for others to notice. I would come out of them feeling that there was something important happening that I knew but couldn’t remember. I actually ended up on medication for epilepsy for a while, and that made me even worse for attentiveness and memory.

        IMO, Michelle needs to see her doctor and a neurologist ASAP.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I have long COVID. Although my memory issues aren’t that bad, after I got tested, a bunch of other memory issues. My treatment team found two other pre-existing issues.

    A gentle suggestion perhaps?

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      Oh this is an interesting take that people might not think about but I have a feeling in the next few years we will see more of. I also wonder if something like long covid could aggravate something else.

      1. Emma*

        I strongly suspect it can. I knew someone who got covid about a year ago; she recovered from the acute illness, but she also had asthma, diabetes and hypertension which had always been well-controlled and didn’t cause her any real problems. After she had covid they all went haywire and she was in and out of specialist appointments for weeks, before she passed away due to a complication of hypertension. Although covid wasn’t her official cause of death, I think it’s extremely unlikely she would have died if she hadn’t had covid – and since we know covid affects the brain and cognition, it seems likely that if it can aggravate diabetes of all things, then it could do the same for a brain-related illness.

    2. triplehiccup*

      This was my first thought. It’s a top symptom among long COVID sufferers. Or it could be another infection – I had a bad spell of cognitive dysfunction last year due to Lyme disease even though I started antibiotics relatively quickly and never developed a fever or anything else besides a rash around the bite. It resulted in my first talking-to at work in about 20 years!

      1. Fishsticks*

        Certain organ issues like kidney problems also go along with cognitive function impact, or side effects of medications. My husband’s grandmother appeared to be succumbing to dementia at one point, only for it to be caused by a bad interaction between two medicines she was taking putting too much stress on her kidney, IIRC. Once she was taken off one of the meds, the mental symptoms cleared up within a few weeks.

        Memory issues and brain fog are increasingly being recognized as caused by a whole litany of seemingly totally unrelated physical conditions. It really behooves the boss to speak with her about potentially speaking with a doctor about the worsening memory problems.

        1. On Fire*

          My grandmother was in assisted living, and they were about to move her to the dementia ward when my aunt insisted she be checked for a UTI. Sure enough, a few antibiotics and she was back to normal. Definitely not saying that’s the issue here, but it could be something with a relatively simple solution — or it could be something tragic. Either way, Michelle needs help, and I commend the OP’s compassion.

          1. ScruffyInternHerder*


            Anytime my Gran was NOT making sense out of the blue, it was a sign to get her to her primary care and checked out as it was 99% a UTI. Gran was completely coherent and with it until her eventual death (on her terms of course) about fifteen years after we noticed the pattern of “not making sense = UTI”.

          1. Spero*

            Yes UTI is one of the most common sources, especially among women! There are many older women who experience several per year with a noted impact. My grandmother who had Alzheimers was also prone to them, and while her memory issues were constant the only time she became combative when confused was when she had a UTI.

          2. Panhandlerann*

            Yes, that is so true. My 91-year-old mother has dementia. But when she gets a UTI, the dementia symptoms get much worse until the UTI has subsided.

            1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

              Same with my MIL, who has been starting to show signs of dementia for about a year. There were a couple of times when it got really bad – she actually berated my SIL (her daughter) over something really stupid immediately after we had returned from my BIL’s funeral. The lack of empathy was just shocking to me, but a couple of days later she had a checkup and sure enough, UTI.

              She is definitely worsening and will be moving into an assisted living facility with a memory care unit, but the times when she had the UTI it just seemed like she went from 30 to 100 overnight.

        2. Jack Russell Terrier*

          YES – one of the things I loved about my mum’s GP and why I didn’t move her to a gerontologist was that she didn’t assume anything.

          Mum did have Alzheimer’s, but when we first began to worry about her memory, her GP checked out organ functions etc – didn’t assume it was Alzheimer’s.

      2. Skytext*

        Lyme disease is a possibility. They thought Kris Kristofferson had Alzheimer’s and it turned out to be untreated Lyme disease! That’s why medical intervention is so important. A lot of commenters on here are already writing her off as having something incurable.

        1. Clisby*

          I think we’ve heard so much about Alzheimer’s that people do tend to go right there, but there are definitely other possibilities. I have only anecdata, not real data, but I have known 2 families where people were getting more and more and more concerned about an older person’s memory problems. One turned out to be thyroid disease, and the other was a *severe* B12 deficiency. Both were treatable. I am certainly not saying that’s the most likely cause of memory dysfunction – but there can be medical reasons.

    3. 404_FoxNotFound*

      I’m in my 30s and am also experiencing some (thankfully) minor memory issues after getting sick with COVID at the beginning of the pandemic and developing long COVID.

      Regardless of the cause, I agree that it sounds like Michelle is having a medical issue that needs to be checked out. If OP is close enough to Michelle, it feels like these are big enough issues that they could have a conversation 1:1 as a friend to see if that does anything.

    4. JustKnope*

      What’s causing the memory issues isn’t relevant or necessary for the OP to speculate about, especially in her conversation with Michelle if one happens. All the OP needs to do is raise the actual problem and encourage her to seek medical treatment.

      1. cabbagepants*


        This comment section is a great example of the “bicycle shed problem.” If you solicit community input on design on a bicycle shed, you will get a lot more input than if you solicit community input on design of a nuclear reactor — not because bicycle shed design is more consequential, but because it’s a much easier topic to understand and discuss.

        Sharing anecdotes about memory loss is much easier than cracking the nut described in the letter.

        1. There You Are*

          I agree that the anecdotes aren’t helpful to the OP.

          But I’ll also add that I, the sole caregiver to my aging mother, am finding them immensely helpful. I’m grateful for everyone who is sharing their experiences.

          1. Patty Mayonnaise*

            I actually think it’s helpful to know that there are a lot of things that can cause memory loss. If I were OP and I were discretely talking to the co-worker, I would bring up that it could be a lot of different things that are treatable, but they can’t get treated unless they get checked out.

      2. triplehiccup*

        I disagree. If the OP is aware of a recent illness, it might help soften the conversation or make it less scary. I would’ve been much more frightened of my brain fog had I not known the likely cause.

        And I think the comments are generally also for other readers, not just the OP. I’ve certainly benefited from offhand remarks here.

        1. Emma*

          Agreed. My gran had dementia and as a result, my mum is terrified of developing it. If I ever need to have a conversation with my mum about memory, you bet I’ll be drawing on this thread for examples of eminently treatable possible causes, in the hopes of making the situation less scary and medical support easier to engage with.

      3. AnotherSarah*

        That’s true but it’s ALSO true that many people will not see a doctor about memory issues, cognitive decline, etc. Too much stigma and denial. But as a commenter above noted, sometimes suggesting it could be something else (long Covid, whatever) could be really helpful in getting her to the doctor.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          That’s what I was thinking too. The thought that it could be Alzheimer’s might make people less willing to approach her or might make her less willing to listen because it’s so much of a life sentence, whereas things like thyroid issues are comparatively easily treatable and “you should see your doctor about these memory issues; they might be fairly easily treatable” might be an easier conversation to have and might also make people more willing to approach her.

          1. Quill*

            Yes. Many people facing a diagnosis that will change their life completely will chose to ignore it, especially if it’s progressive or incurable. The idea that they can stave it off for a few more years, months, weeks, whatever is pretty attractive.

        2. Spero*

          Agree with this. If they think it’s inevitable, really knowing may be worse than ‘not knowing.’ Whereas if it’s treatable there’s an incentive to act

      4. ErinWV*

        I agree the OP shouldn’t overstep with health speculation if they are the one to talk to Michelle. However, as others have pointed out, some people put up a mental roadblock about “elderly” concerns like Alzheimer’s or dementia, but would be more likely to address something that might be long COVID or cancer-related, which could happen at almost any age. If that’s what Michelle needs to get to the doctor…

      5. Meep*

        Hands down this. Memory issues can also be caused by something as simple as stress. No need to diagnose her.

      6. Lenora Rose*

        If all Michelle or those around her can think of is Alzheimer’s or Dementia or something irreversible, she is less likely to open her mind to the possibility it is happening. If, on the other hand, she can be encouraged to be checked for medication, Long Covid, a UTI, anything that’s *curable*, she may feel less judged and more willing to see a doctor. There’s definitely a difference in response between “Do this and maybe you can be back to normal” vs. “Do this because your life as you know it may be over.”

        1. cabbagepants*

          Wow, if my colleagues came up to me and suggested that my recent performance issues were due to a UTI, I would NOT be inclined to respectfully listen.

      7. Kella*

        It’s true that OP doesn’t need to speculate about what might be causing the memory issues. But people’s understandings of health problems tend to be very oversimplified and inaccurate and this bias can influence their willingness to address the problem.

        So, acknowledging that memory issues can be caused by a wide variety of issues, some treatable, some not, might help someone A. Feel less scared about looking for answers B. Be less likely to dismiss the issue because the additional information might prevent having the reaction “I can’t have alzheimers, I don’t have X. Therefore I must be fine.” C. Take the issue of talking to a loved one showing these symptoms more seriously.

        These comments are not just for OP. They are for anyone in a comparable situation.

        1. Strawberry Shortcake*

          These comments are maybe helpful for Mike, who may be avoiding the issue because he thinks she’ll end up leaving forever and he doesn’t want to replace her. Knowing she could have something treatable might encourage him to act, because it’s easier than hiring and training.

      8. Willow Pillow*

        “All the OP needs to do is raise the actual problem and encourage her to seek medical treatment.”

        This presumes that Michelle has the resources to access medical treatment that actually helps, and that her symptoms aren’t dismissed outright or downplayed. A straightforward path from symptoms to medical treatment to relief is much less common for women.

    5. Sitting Pretty*

      Yeah, I also have Long COVID and the memory and cognitive issues are super scary. I am having to put extra layers of accountability into all my work now. External checks, waiting periods on sending drafts and emails, asking for others to review things that used to be really straightforward for me. It’s slowing me down a lot at work.

      I’m in my late 40s and got a big promotion and raise right before all this started. I had assumed I was in the peak productive point in my career. Plus there are a lots of years left before retirement, and I have a team of people relying on me. It’s really chilling to feel my capacities so terribly diminished.

      You wouldn’t otherwise know I’m sick. And my doc has done a bunch of tests including a CT scan of my head, everything comes back normal. I’m glad I know about Long COVID and have support around it because it allows me to put some of those structures in place. But what about all the people who may be walking around with LC-induced neurological issues, chalking it up to “aging” or whatever? LC is estimated to affect like 20% of people who had COVID which is a HUGE number.

      Of course this situation may not be that. I expect though we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this (and among younger people) in our workplaces

      1. COHikerGirl*

        My own mother, knowing my issues started suddenly and after COVID and knowing about LC, still tries to tell me “it’s just aging”. I was 37 when it all started! That’s not aging plus I have a diagnosis saying it’s not!

        I’m in your boat. 40 and theoretically should be doing amazing at work. But I struggle now and it’s absolutely not obvious unless I say something (which I try to do, to both normalize having a disability and normalize LC impacting so many). And I’m actively putting my career on hold because I’m not sure how well I can manage learning new stuff.

    6. nnn*

      Yes, I know several people who have had similar symptoms in the aftermath of COVID.

      Weirdly, in a couple of them, this has manifested as forgetting that they had COVID.

    7. MeepMeep123*

      That’s how my wife lost an employee. She developed severe memory/cognitive issues after her second bout of COVID and actually quit her job after messing up too many times in serious ways.

      Long COVID is known to cause cognitive issues like this, it’s well-documented by now, and in these pandemic times, this would be my first guess as to what’s wrong. I have the feeling we will see a lot more of this sort of thing as the “endemic” pandemic really takes hold.

    8. COHikerGirl*

      This was exactly my thought. My first though, actually, with how suddenly it came on.

      I have Long COVID (3+ years now) and neuro is my biggest issue. My memory was about this bad when it was at its worst. I had zero idea how bad it truly was. I don’t really remember my life for a few months. And work exacerbates it. I almost got fired from my job because I wasn’t aware of how bad it was and how much it impacted my work (I still don’t fully know how bad it was…it’s a black hole to me). I (with my neuro) changed my diet, put limits on what I do, and it helped but I still definitely have issues.

      OP, if she’s had COVID recently, it might be long COVID. It’s hard to diagnose that (for a whole host of reasons), but it very easily could be the issue.

  5. Mayor of Llamatown*

    Oh, I feel for Michelle. And for you and all of your coworkers. It would be a kindness to her to figure out some way for someone to talk about it with her, from a place of genuine concern. It’s worth her possibly getting upset, IMHO – there could be a lot of health things at play here.

  6. Pandq*

    Omg when I first started reading I thought it sounded like me when I started going through menopause. But as I read further, it sounds like my friend who had early onset Alzheimer’s- not diagnosing Michelle though. I hope you can get her to see a doctor because denial is definitely part of it.

  7. becky s.*

    You will be doing Michelle a favor by addressing this. She could have an auto accident (if she drives) or some other type of accident.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      This suggests one possible way to address it, but ONLY if other attempts are not helpful.

      If you contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to raise concerns about Michelle’s ability to drive safely, depending on the state, they might call her in for a driving test, which could potentially reveal a significant enough issue to trigger a medical checkup. Not always, please note! But sometimes it can be a way to call attention to the issue.

      The other thing I wonder is whether the OP or anyone else in the office has ever met anyone in Michelle’s family. If anyone in the office is acquainted with one of her family members, that might also be a way to raise a question, or (more likely) to add to the stack of things the family has already compiled demonstrating that Michelle is struggling.

      Thank you in any case, OP, for the compassion I read in your question. Memory loss is a terrifying thing to deal with, and if Michelle experiences compassion rather than judgment or anger from those around her, that may to some small extent make things easier for her. Best wishes to all.

    2. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Yeah, when I had long Covid, the brain fog was bad enough that I didn’t trust myself to drive for about 6 weeks. I wasn’t sure that I would recognize them/a wire wouldn’t get crossed to have me interpret them weirdly. If I hadn’t had an actual diagnosis of a disease I knew could cause brain fog, I completely would have written off my symptoms as being stressed/forgetful/other people being confused.

      I don’t know who can do it or how, but Michelle definitely needs this pointed out to her by somebody who cares about her as a human being (thankfully, it sounds like the people she works with qualify).

    3. Strawberry Shortcake*

      Yes – someone who can go through the entire process of ordering food and then forget entirely that she ever even considered doing so can easily miss a turn or drive into the wrong lane. Happened to my grandfather once – he thought he was making a turn he’d always made, but drove somewhere else entirely. Luckily it was into a residential community, but it could easily have been a turn somewhere else…

  8. starsaphire*

    A lot of times when you, or someone you’re close to, is failing – the “scared” comes out as “angry,” and the “denial” comes out as “stubbornly deflecting.”

    You will absolutely have to go to Mike en masse to let him know that this is a serious situation – not “drama” – and that Michelle needs medical help asap. Just as if she had a visible wound, she is displaying symptoms of a serious illness.

    1. Lily*

      “A lot of times when you, or someone you’re close to, is failing – the “scared” comes out as “angry,” and the “denial” comes out as “stubbornly deflecting.””

      Well said. As a nurse, I see this in action. When a person starts to worry about their worsening memory issues, they can become really angry, defensive, making excuses, blaming others…
      because they’re afraid and in denial.

      1. Artemesia*

        my father, the mildest of men, raged during that middle stage, when it has been diagnosed and he was in denial and would not talk about it — he was always confused and claiming ‘no one told him anything’ because he would forget what plans were made etc. It is a terrifying thing for the person experiencing it and for those caring for them. I hope if it comes to me or my husband that we will be able to face it more squarely having seen how this works. But I can see why denial is so strong.

      2. Venus*

        My family member worked with elderly and said that one of the first signs of dementia is irrational anger. They can’t understand why everything is changing and doesn’t make sense.

    2. Ama*

      Yup, I think there are two people in denial in this letter — Michelle probably knows she’s having memory problems but is in denial about how bad it is and thus gets defensive every time someone points out a mistake caused by the memory problem. Mike probably knows he needs to do something but also knows it will be a hard conversation (and possibly not one with a good solution) and so he’s redirecting his anger elsewhere.

    3. Susan*

      My mom has dementia and has never accepted the suggestion that her memory was failing, either at the start or to this day. Her symptoms started much like Michelle’s. I can’t imagine having to address with a coworker, but clearly the situation is not sustainable. Contacting a family member if possible sounds like a necessary next step.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        That’s the thing – you can’t remember what you can’t remember, so it’s basically impossible for the person to assess the seriousness of the issue by themselves. Like with the pizza thing. Michelle wouldn’t remember that she didn’t remember. As far as she recalls, the pizza thing never happened.

      2. Kittyfish76*

        My father as well. He will sort of admit to memory problems when he is alone with me. But overall, complete denial to this day. Refuses medical treatment other than his biannual physical.

      3. fposte*

        It’s not about not accepting; it’s that she’s no longer capable of grasping what’s going on with her own body. That’s a common symptom of dementia’s; it’s called anosognosia. It’s one of those symptoms that’s a reminder that dementia isn’t so much a memory thing as brain damage.

        I think raising it with Michelle could be a reasonable place to start, but if it is dementia raising it with her may not get anywhere, and I would consider reaching out to known family.

      4. arachnophilia*

        My (long distance) partner has these sorts of symptoms. I’ve been reading a book called Travelers to Unimagined Lands, which discusses part of what goes on in the brain to create the illusion for the person suffering from dementia – we all, as humans, create narratives to explain the unexplainable, and patients with dementia are no different. When something doesn’t make sense, they find a reason why it does, even if that reason isn’t accurate. (My partner does this with things like the TV – she blames her friend who came over for ‘screwing it up,’ and before she got to the point where it was noticeable what was happening, she kept blaming her credit card companies for changing their websites because she couldn’t figure out how to log in). It was so subtle, until it became less so, and I do hope that Michelle is able to get support she needs in and out of her professional life.

        My partner refuses to see a doctor – absolutely, unequivocally refuses – so we don’t know what’s up with her. And I so wish that someone could have convinced her a few years ago to find out what was going on, so at least we would have a better sense of what we need to do now.

        1. Artemesia*

          for many people living alone, a truly terrible crisis occurs before they get help — like burning the house down.

          1. arachnophilia*

            That has been one of my biggest fears – thankfully, she doesn’t cook any longer (except in the microwave). So my next biggest fear is that she will fall and hurt herself and not be able to figure out how to call someone (or that she’ll – again – refuse to get medical attention).

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            Or, God forbid, driving into someone/another car due to mixing up the gas/brake, not understanding a sign or light, etc.

            My dad drove for longer than he should have and I was sick with fear that something like this would happen. Thank God his wife finally took the keys.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Agreed. And thinking about it from the viewpoint of Michelle, she probably feels like she’s being gaslighted or bullied if people keep telling (accusing in her mind) her of things she’s said or done that she has no memory of and getting angry at her for it.

      As someone who doesn’t have memory issues — beyond the fairly normal inability to remember that actors name…the one…that has the hair…and those eyes, he was in the movie with the dog — anyway, being told I did or said something that I know didn’t do or say, really gets me angry.

    5. TeapotNinja*

      What the OP is describing is textbook symptoms of some sort of cognitive issue. Every guide about how to recognize alzheimer’s disease describes them exactly as OP did.

    6. Quinalla*

      I agree that I would go as a group – bring up the business concerns and health concerns to him – and I would also probably start referring anything you see that is affecting the business to him so that if nothing else, maybe he’ll do something because he is tired of it all being on his plate. How awful for your coworker :(

  9. kalli*

    It sounds like Mike’s probably had the ‘it’s brain fog’ defensive reaction too.

    You’ve brought it up with Michelle already. Michelle is defensive and making up excuses. There’s not much else you can do. If she isn’t performing the basic requirements of the job, that needs to be dealt with in the same way it would be if it was any one else, and if Mike won’t, you need to start looking elsewhere while you manage your workload as best you can within your position description.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      My sense is that people are really underestimating the severity of “brain fog,” generally. Like, it’s not being a little confused for a moment. It can be debilitating.

      1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

        This is more than brain fog. Completely forgetting how to log into a system that you have used every day for years? Forgetting that you already ordered food and then acting strangely when it’s brought up and being adamant that it was a mistake is not brain fog. That is not even severe brain fog.

        Brain fog would be typing your password wrong. But you wouldn’t accuse someone of changing your computer layout and being adamant about it.

        1. ArtsNerd*

          Brain fog is also forgetting the name of my boss of many years so completely that when I went to pick up an order we placed that was in her name I just stared at the employee blankly and eventually asked if there was another way to confirm the order was mine.

          I’ve absolutely forgotten how to use systems I’ve used for years as well.

          The thing that flags LW’s coworker as being more than even severe brain fog is that I still have the memories, I just can’t recall them for shit. Or in terms of making new ones, they’re still encoded even if a bit weaker than when I’m well.

          So while “what do you mean, I changed my mind about pizza?” is a question I’d ask, and while I would (and do) forget that I placed the lunch order, I would absolutely remember when they called to ask me about it—or at least think “yeah that sounds about right. Whoops.”

          I would not insist I had done no such thing because there’s enough of a memory encoded/recalled to ping some element of recognition in my brain and reaction. This does not appear to be happening with LW’s coworker.

          Either way, just as a human, I think LW has a duty to express serious alarm to their coworker. I’m a highly self-aware person and have had to be told directly on a couple of occasions that some symptom or behavior of mine was firmly NOT in the realm of normal for me to realize there was an issue I needed to investigate or address.

          It doesn’t need to be a thorny thing, just something that clearly communicates that this is weird and alarming and cause for concern about the coworker’s wellbeing.

    2. WellRed*

      I’m not sure they have brought it up with Michelle, though. It sounds like they point out specific issues (pizza) but not like anyone has sat her down to mention the pattern and the concern.

  10. Just Another Zebra*

    Poor Michelle.

    When I read the title, I actually thought this was a letter from my office. Over the last year, my direct coworker has been having similar memory issues. Early 50’s, some minor health stuff but nothing serious. Because he and I work so closely together, I was privy to what I called “constant small lapses of memory” – forgetting to put pricing in a ticket, misremembering when he had a doctor appointment, forgetting to call someone back. Independently, they could be attributed to brain fog. But as a whole, it had me worried. I struggled with saying something. We’re close, but it still felt like an overstep.

    But when both the office manager and the general manager asked me (privately and independently) if I had noticed anything, I decided I had to say something. I asked him for a few minutes to talk, and laid out the things I had been seeing. I told him I wasn’t trying to upset or embarrass him, but that I wanted him to know I was worried as a friend. He hadn’t noticed, but thanked me. He told me later that he brought it up at his next doctor appointment. One of his meds has memory loss as a side effect. Meds got switched, and the issues are mostly resolved. One thing he told me – he was upset when I brought this up to him, but his doctor advised that the side effect could be permanent if meds weren’t switched.

    I think someone close to Michelle needs to speak up, privately and out of concern for HER. Memory stuff can progress rapidly, and in ways often undetectable to the person experiencing them. I feel for everyone involved – there is no easy solution, but I think speaking up is necessary.

    1. irene adler*

      Yes! It should be made clear to Mike that the concern here is for Michelle and her well-being.
      There is the chance Mike may think folks are trying to get him to get rid of Michelle-which is not the case.

    2. I edit everything*

      I think “this is what I’m seeing” is a great way to frame the conversation. It’s not accusatory or laying blame in any way, the way “You’ve been doing X, Y, and Z, and it’s causing problems” might be.
      The conversation needs to come from a place of compassion and concern for Michelle.

  11. Minerva*

    “A couple weeks ago, we all were discussing our lunch plans. Michelle mentioned multiple times that morning that she felt like pizza. We saw her order her lunch and she said she would pick it up after she ran some office errands. When I came back an hour later, she was eating a sandwich at her desk. I asked, “Oh, did you change your mind about pizza?” She looked at me like I was crazy. Shortly after, the pizza place called asking when she was going to pick up her order. She was adamant she did not order anything and she must have accidentally ordered it on their app. Cue the WTH looks.”

    Not to armchair diagnose, but this one really hits home. My Auntie would do similar with her favorite local BBQ place in that nebulous space between “getting forgetful with age” and “you need a diagnosis” Turned out she had Alzheimer’s, and a lot of what you’re describing is familiar too.

    The hope is that Michelle has family at home that are also seeing similar and that they are willing to act on it. It’s much harder to force it from a work standpoint. Unfortunately, while she may have a sense that something is wrong, the memory issues mean that she is in a poor position to realize she needs help.

    1. Antennapedia*

      Yeah… armchair diagnoses are terrible but also: this is the exact behavior we saw in a colleague of mine in the year or two before she was diagnosed with extremely early onset Alzheimers. She was 57 at diagnosis.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      I’ve taken those orders, and they are so heartbreaking. Especially when they call back every week. We have a list of people where the cooks don’t start the order until we can call someone and independently verify that they want the food.

  12. Agile Phalanges*

    I had a boss who was dealing with this kind of thing. It IS heart-breaking, but it’s also frustrating. It was a very small business, owned by partners but my boss was the only active partner. I scheduled a meeting with the silent partner and discussed it with him, and he claimed he would deal with it. Didn’t help much (boss forgot most of the meeting). Kept in touch with him, e-mailing, texting, etc., and he would reach out to his partner, but still wasn’t able to DO much. I ended up leaving the company despite enjoying the work and enjoying my co-workers as humans, because my mental health couldn’t deal with having to deal with the boss’ symptoms all day.

    OP, I hope you and your team are able to get through to Michael AND Michelle, and that she gets some help (sometimes these things are reversible, or at least can be dealt with more easily than currently) and that the rest of you don’t have to deal with the fallout too badly. But if you need to leave for your own sake, keep that option in the back of your mind, too.

    1. WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot*

      I was in a similar situation. My boss went from a nice guy to mean, rude and straight up paranoid; we were trying to cover for him in certain situations or people would come to us because they didn’t trust him, so then he would accuse us of interfering. He removed me from a high profile project after senior management got annoyed with him and came to me for help. He accused me of insubordination and tried to fire me. (Fortunately, the senior vice-president had my back on it.)

      He lost half his staff in about 12 months (including me), so management made him get a “management coach”. Then they made moves to put him on disability and let him go, but then he raised a medical issue and asked for ADA accommodations. It was clear he couldn’t do the work, so they were going to continue as planned, but then he left for another job. Where the same scenario played out.

      He was a bad boss in a sad situation. His reputation is in absolute shreds around town. If he’d gotten help earlier, things might have been different for all of us.

      1. Meep*

        Well crap – now I am wondering about my 60-year-old former manager who stopped pretending to be nice around the start of the pandemic and started acting like this. She is pretty horrible, to begin with (the first time I met her, three years prior, she started talking about how if anyone crossed her she would destroy them – which is normal for people who have known her for 15-20 years), but I always chalked up the fact she seemed to forget conversations we had and substituted her own reality as her just being a raging narcissist.

        Sadly, her raging narcissism is why the only person who talks to her, socially, is her sister (she has six living siblings) who lives across the country. Now I wonder if she has a medical issue she refuses to get diagnosed (also a heavy anti-vaxxer).

  13. Debora*

    The letter states Mike is the manager, and oversees the company. It doesn’t state he’s also the owner. So I’m wondering if there is an owner, or a board, or a larger corporation they could talk to if Mike refuses to act. Because if anything is worth going over a managers head, this would be it.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think this should be very seriously considered if going as a whole group (everyone except Michelle) to Manager Mike doesn’t work.

      I have a ton of compassion for Michelle – health declines can be scary – but nothing can be improved if people won’t raise the issue.

  14. Melissa*

    I 100% agree with having a private discreet conversation with Michelle! It might even be more effective than the employment-related advice for the manager. I recognize Michelle may respond by getting angry and denying it, but it is also possible she will say that she’s been worried also, and has been too frightened to address it.

  15. McFizzle*

    Would it be possible to have a few coworkers (preferably the ones with the best relationships with her) to approach her over the course of a few days? Normally I wouldn’t go there at all, but if there’s no HR and Mike won’t do anything, it seems like something needs to be done. Of course, each interaction done separately and privately, but rather than just one person, 2-3? Perhaps that would help get Michelle over a bit of the denial / “it’s just you who thinks this” mentality?

    Of course, the conversations should be as gentle and full of compassion as possible. I’d also recommend offering help, whether that’s with the workload or anything else.

    Gosh my heart aches for Michelle.

  16. Freya*

    We just had something like this happen to a long-term employee early last year. He was on the way to retirement, and we were actively recruiting for his replacement for him to train and then retire. About a month or two before we found a suitable candidate to interview, he started noticeably missing obvious things. For a couple of weeks, his supervisor chalked it up to him “checking out” due to being close to leaving. He then had a conversation with one of our owners and his manager about an issue that was missed, and throughout the conversation seemed off. Our owner decided to ask him if he was okay and if something was going on outright. He was baffled by the questions.

    Because he was a long-term employee of more than 20 years, the owner asked if we could call his wife to bring her into the conversation, and the employee agreed. We called her and explained the situation. She had a lightbulb moment as he had been having similar issues at home, and she immediately came and took him to the doctor. He had been having mini-strokes for weeks and could have died. He took several months of recovery and then retired once he was better and didn’t need our insurance.

    It was very scary, but I am so proud of how our owners and managers handled the situation, especially as I (HR) was out on vacation that day.

    I would highly recommend that OP push Mike to contact Michelle’s emergency contact or spouse and let them know the concerning things that are happening at work. Michelle might not be able to understand what is going on or address it herself.

    1. Melissa*

      That is such a good example of a condition that can be treated!! I think many people’s minds go to something like Alzheimer’s disease– but your story is such a good example of why it should be investigated ASAP.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Exactly – I’ve also read that untreated UTIs can cause confusion in older adults.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          True! This happened with my grandfather. We assumed it was just age (he was 96), but it was actually an infection. The human body is amazing and bizarre in turns, and problems in one place can present in completely unexpected ways.

    2. Phony Genius*

      This is one of the very rare times that it would be OK to call an employee’s family member. Whether this applies to Michelle is a question for Mike to think about.

    3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I was also wondering if approaching Mike with the idea that this could be something curable and allowing Michelle to continue to suffer is unkind. I’ve read that UTIs in older people (not sure of the age range) can create symptoms that seem like dementia.

  17. Seeking Second Childhood*

    OP, you say she’s not taking any medications that would cause this– but YOU DO NOT KNOW. Honestly not your role. It is Mike’s role. And it’s also possible Michelle has already disclosed something you don’t know.
    Take the business problem to Mike because if my suspicion is correct, he needs to handle it differently.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I’m glad you said this; I’m not the only who thought “Mike probably has been told something and is deflecting because he’s just not sure how to handle things correctly as they don’t have an actual HR” am I? Because that’s my initial reaction to the letter.

  18. Adalind*

    I don’t have any advice or anything, but this happened with an executive in my office. He started having memory issues and ended up retiring earlier than he had planned due to it. It was heartbreaking. He was much beloved and none of us were really surprised – we had an inkling something was up due to things like what happened in the post. I hope someone can speak to her and get through to her.

  19. 2 Cents*

    I’m dealing with brain fog and memory lapses because of a known medical issue, a medication issue, and (I’m sure) long Covid. I’m 40. If you can talk to Michelle about seeing a neurologist, that would be the kindest thing. Does she have family or an SO? This probably isn’t just happening at work.

  20. KatEnigma*

    It would help if LW stopped referring to these things as “Office Drama” and instead framed it in her and Mike’s head as “legitimate business problems”

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Nod. office drama is when me and my nemesis fight because we’re wearing the same outfit. This is a coworker needing support with illness. I hope that doctors can help

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        And it’s not just sniping at coworkers, it’s affecting interactions with clients. Definitely a business issue.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      That was the one thing I saw in the letter too.

      This is a difficult conversation for a boss to have, but Mike should not dismiss this as office “drama.” It’s both a business concern and concern for a human being who is clearly having some sort of medical issue that would make it hard for her to recognize the issue herself.

      1. KatEnigma*

        I am willing to bet that most of the AAM faithful didn’t know about that ability under the ADA to make a medical exam basically a condition of continual employment. So I can believe that Mike well believes that if it’s a medical concern his hands are tied and it’s “personal” – look how many people honestly and sincerely believe this for anything that might possibly fall under the ADA and think your manager can’t even mention medical things to you. And then to many “personal” = “drama”

        But that is even more reason for LW and Mike and everyone else to focus on “we can’t accept these business problems from you” Using the ADA to get her to a doctor is the compassionate response, but while ideal, managers don’t have to be particularly compassionate- they need to promote the business’s needs! A smart manager knows that supporting his human employees in reasonable ways (not like yesterday’s LW) is what’s best for the business, in case you think I’m insensitive.

        1. JB*

          Yes. So many employers seem to have a wildly exagerrated view of what protections a protected class actually affords someone. How many times have we seen a letter where someone claimed some sort of discrimination, and management gave them a blank check for any amount of ineptitude or misbehavior? They either don’t know the actual limits of those protections or they don’t care enough to bother going through the process to fight the claim.

          When the employer should legitimately push back, but chooses not to, it perpetuates the idea that these people are just immune to consequences. That hurts everyone. The business suffers, employees become resentful, and employers become less likely to hire one of ‘those people’ they suspect might ’cause problems.’

    3. CommanderBanana*

      Has anyone else had superiors who dismissed problems as “drama”? My CEO of the organization I just left always framed serious issues as people “causing drama.”

  21. EagleHen*

    I agree with Debora above.

    It sounds as if Mike is only the manager, not the owner, of the business.

    If that’s the case, then it’s time to escalate the problem up the ownership chain-of-command.

    I’d certainly feel compassion for Michelle, and Mike for that matter. But not to the extent that I’d be willing to jeopardize my job and those of my other co-workers by letting the situation continue unaddressed.

  22. Portia*

    Michelle may have an inkling of what is going on, and if she does, she’s probably terrified. But a ton of conditions can cause memory disruption, as others have noted.

    When/if someone is able to talk to Michelle about it, I hope they DON’T guess or speculate on what might be going on — and don’t mention her age, since it’s possible that has nothing to do with it. All that needs to be said is: “We’ve noticed this, and it’s been happening for a while, and you need to get to a doctor to find out what’s going on.”

    I hope Mike is up to it. The “no drama” bosses always do seem to end up drawing out the drama.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      “No drama” often means “I don’t want to deal with anything that could become drama”. As a result, drama ensues.

      Good managers attempt to deal with things before they become an issue. Alas for the Mikes of the world, and sympathy to the people who have to work for them.

  23. JustKnope*

    I recommend OP keep a running list of what the office is seeing. This should be kept very private and only shared with Mike or Michelle, but I think the cumulative effect of seeing ALL the instances is harder to ignore than just complaints about one-off situations. Also, the fact that Michelle does your accounting makes this a much more urgent problem for Mike to address head on. This could seriously impact your company’s finances.

  24. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I do hope Mike steps up. When my cousin got early-onset Alzheimer’s in her late 50s, it was her colleagues who first spotted that there was a problem and got her to go to the doctor. It’s something nobody wants to have to do, but sometimes you’re the ones who can make the difference.

  25. Pierrot*

    I had a boss who was having memory issues. She would forget words and earlier parts of the conversation, and there were definitely a number of times when she would contradict earlier instructions because she did not remember making them. The most difficult part was when she would get angry at us because she “definitely told us” to do something a certain way, even though she didn’t. In her case, the anger and yelling at us had more to do with her overall personality than memory issues as it was a longstanding issue.

    I hope that Michelle has family or friends around her who might be better positioned to have a conversation with her about her memory. Mike definitely needs to address the issue has it comes up in the workplace though. I think the most pressing thing is that she is lashing out at people and bkaming others when she doesn’t remember something that she did the day before.

  26. Eater of Cupcakes*

    There’s this exercise I do every day to prevent situations like the pizza-order denial mentioned. Every day, I ask myself “Does my idea of the state of things correlate with other people’s idea?” And if the answer is no, that’s a sign of mental issues beginning. I’m starting now, when I’m young, so that it’ll be an ingrained habit that stays with me even when my short-term memory stops working.

    1. On Fire*

      This is a good way of framing it. I’ve never phrased it like that to myself, but it’s a general mental habit I try to inculcate. (Fingers crossed my family doesn’t decide to off me and conspire to make me think I’m losing my grasp of reality, lol.)

    2. Loglady*

      Thank you for this! This technique might be very useful for dealing with my mood disorder.

      1. Eater of Cupcakes*

        Well, I just try to take notice of whether other people have talked to me about things I don’t remember saying or doing. A pizza being delivered even though I have no memory of ordering one, or somebody telling me of family members I have no memory of having met… If that kind of thing occurs, then I’ll know that dementia might be setting in.

        I keep hearing about old people who genuinely think that it’s the rest of the world that’s making no sense, so clearly, to some people it’s unbelievable that it might actually happen to them. I don’t know if it’s a personal choice not to believe what other people say, or if part of the mental problems facing dementia sufferers is that they literally cannot believe–don’t have the ability to believe–that the problem is with them and they do in fact have memory issues. But my hope is that my daily reminders/checkups will make it easier for me, if I ever get dementia of any sort, to accept that it is indeed with me that the problem lies.

        I might as well elaborate on the background: My grandmother’s got dementia. Very far gone. She makes up stories, like how her room at the old folk’s home is an old storage room refurbished to be a nice little room to live in, and she genuinely thinks the stories are true. She points at a photo of my half-sister and says “Look, there’s your cousin!”
        Even though she knows her memory doesn’t work that well anymore, she still trusts it to tell her the truth about things like that.

        My hope is that if I’m ever in her situation, with memory problems that I know exist, my awareness of my memory problems will mean that I question my memories. Better to at least know for sure that I don’t know for sure. Better to be honest about how dementia is a real option, so that if/when it does happen, I’ll be able to understand what’s going on around me.

  27. BabeRoe*

    My dad had Alzheimers. It started at work when he couldn’t remember the 5-digit part number to something he used every day. Something he knew. My brother worked with him and called me to say how odd it was. It just got worse from there. His corporate office started noticing things as well. He had other medical issues, too. They let him go with the understanding that he is disabled. They covered his health insurance for a while and gave him a severance. They also provided documentation so he could apply for disability. Unfortunately, over the next couple of years it got increasingly worse.
    Doctors are able to run a few simple tests to see her ability to remember and focus. The company should be supportive in this. The last thing they feel is in control. They will get angry and lash out when they feel that the control is being taken away from them. I hope things work out for her and the rest of your office.

  28. JustMe*

    Yeah this is rough. As others mentioned, there are a lot of health conditions that can cause memory loss. It also may be a side effect of a medication that she needs to take to treat something else. She likely is frightened, but she may also be very embarrassed, especially if she doesn’t know why this is happening. I agree that you all should really advocate that Mike talk to her privately (and kindly!) about some of the work impacts that you all have noticed and how it seems out of character for Michelle, without making assumptions about what the underlying cause may be.

  29. Greg M*

    I had this exact issue with a long term employee who was around the same age. He had always been one of the best performers on the team and simply couldn’t do his job anymore. He had some sort of cognitive issue and couldn’t remember how to run the software or do anything productive.
    I had to put him on a 90 day Performance Improvement Plan. During our weekly check ins on the PIP I brought up multiple times that I thought there was a physical problem and he needed to see a doctor. He kept putting me off mainly because he didn’t want to admit to himself that there was an issue.
    I worked with HR and found out that if there was an issue with his health he could go on Short Term Disability then migrate to Long Term Disability until he reached SS age. I brought it up and he refused to see a doctor.
    Finally at the end of the PIP I told him flat out that when I submit the PIP paperwork that he would be let go by the end of the week. He finally went to the doctor, was diagnosed with cognitive issues, and got disability.

    1. Boof*

      Owch, painful but overall best for both the business and probably your employee that you did that.

      1. Boof*

        And by business I don’t just mean the top brass, I mean everyone who would have to keep trying to work with this person who refused to acknowledge a problem

  30. Been There*

    A very dear friend of mine was struggling to cope at the beginning of the pandemic with learning new work processes. He couldn’t retain information day to day such as how to log onto zoom. His colleagues, who were very fond of him and very dismayed, wound up contacting his husband to let him know. Sadly, my friend had to retire and has been deteriorating further. If anyone in the office can contact Michelle‘s family, I think that’s the way to go.

  31. Rage*

    Did she have COVID? Or re-bound COVID? Because this is absolutely 100% a post-COVID symptom. I know, because it happened to me.

    I had COVID in July 2022, and rebound COVID in August 2022 (I was vaccinated, but had not been approved for the 2nd booster, so B5A or whatever it was got me). Rebound COVID reduced my cognitive functioning by at least 50% for about four months, my short-term memory was about 24 hours for six months, and my executive functioning was pretty much destroyed. If I was typing an email at work and somebody knocked on my door or otherwise interrupted me, I immediately lost the entire context and reason for the email I was typing, even though it was still right there in front of me. It would then take a good 10 minutes of research to bring back what I needed to complete the email (and heaven forbid I got interrupted during THAT). It was BRUTAL and it also cost me about 18 months worth of longer-term memory.

    My organization does an annual fundraiser-benefit dinner-auction every February. A number of the attendees are current and former board members – many of whom I worked with on a regular basis when I was EA to the CEO (4-5 years ago). In February 2022, I saw these people, remembered their names, remembered details about things they had done, vacations they had taken, discussions we had . This past February, I recognized that I knew these people, but I had ZERO MEMORY of their names. It was so embarrassing to have to ask them to please tell me their name when they clearly knew who I was, and knew that I *should* know who they are.

    Hell, I even forgot the name of our former HR director. She attended the event, and the last time I talked to her had been in May 2022. For crying out loud, we’re friends on Facebook too! And I literally could not remember her name.

    It’s been a long and difficult road for me, and my role involves a lot of administrative duties which I normally could handle in my sleep.

    In this employee’s case, I would rule out COVID/rebound-COVID before I would try to rule in dementia.

  32. Kimberly*

    It’s not the LW’s responsibility to rule out ANY medical conditions.

    That can only be performed by a doctor. Not the LW and not the comments section.

  33. Turtlewings*

    Even if it is a professional overstep, OP, I think you have to say something to Michelle if Mike won’t act, for Michelle’s sake. This is an appalling situation, and someone has to do something, even if it’s the “wrong” person.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      I agree. This is a business issue… but there’s a human element to this, as well.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      I agree with the commenter who said that if Mike isn’t the owner or CEO, that equivalent should be informed. It’s an serious situation that cannot be ignored for both business and simple humanity reasons.

  34. RJ*

    My former long time boss and mentor began to suffer from memory loss when I was leaving the company we both worked for and he was in serious denial of it. Our old department was eventually restructured for leadership and his position was eliminated. Shortly after that, he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. He worked with some of us for 10, 20 years and he can barely remember half of the people he worked with in our small department.

    I agree that contacting Michelle’s family is a good path to pursuit as this might be part of a bigger health diagnosis than a layperson may be able to determine. It’s sad and demeaning to think that anyone would classify this as ‘office drama’.

  35. Daytripper75*

    Also, this is VALUABLE time that Michelle can be getting treatment during. Delay can only make things worse.

  36. quetzal1234*

    My dad died of early onset Alzheimer’s, and we went through something similar. My dad was very gifted at his job and it was an important part of his identity. I would encourage you to talk to Michelle’s family if you are able. I know that usually you wouldn’t discuss an employee with non-employees, but in my dad’s case we knew about his issues but couldn’t tell to what extent it was impacting his work (he wouldn’t/couldn’t tell us).

    His department chair and my mom worked together to make his transition out of the workforce planned and dignified, which was really important. If he had been fired he would have been devastated. The way it was done was as a slow transition, not a sudden break, which helped smooth the transition. For example, even after he was no longer working, they let him keep his office for a few months. The department chair was also able to plan who would take over various responsibilities from my dad before he was totally gone, and he and my mom planned the explanation that would go to my dad’s colleagues.

    1. Csethiro Ceredin*

      What a lovely workplace, trying so hard to make a difficult situation a little easier.

  37. Hasha Fashasha*

    I had a supervisor that something similar happened to. We all thought it was some kind of dementia or something when she started having car accidents and not being able to find her way home. We found out much later that it was some form of mad cow disease and she ended up dying eventually. But before they were finally able to force her out for medical reasons, they just kept taking duties away from her until she basically sat in her office alone all day. It was very, very sad to see her waste away like that.

  38. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

    Since the OP mentions that Michelle has been a great mentor would it be appropriate for them to talk to Michelle on her own out of concern? I guess it depends on the relationship but if this is a small company and they are closer than normal coworkers I could see this as an option. I think this would be best being the boss doesn’t seem to want to do anything. I guess you could go to the boss and say what Alison suggests but add that you are very concerned about michelle’s health and if boss doesn’t say anything then the OP will.

  39. pricklypear*

    I had these exact symptoms after a TBI that was caused by lack of oxygen. It’s not a visible injury or something most people realize can cause a brain injury. Even though I knew what happened and that it was the cause of my symptoms, it took over a year to find a doctor who would take me seriously and attempt relevant treatment. If I hadn’t known what was going on, I’m not sure anyone would have ever made the connection or attempted to treat it as a TBI instead of a mental health issue.

    Because I couldn’t access appropriate medical care for a long time, I had to figure out how to work around it. I used a lot of lists, reminders, strict systems of keeping and tracking absolutely everything in writing, and other accommodations to get through my work. It wasn’t anything anyone else could fix for me, because memory issues and executive function are different for everyone. Most of the things other people recommended or tried to do for me weren’t helpful–I had to adapt tools to how I was functioning with that task on that particular day.

    Memory issues are terrifying. They’re scary and stressful if you know what caused them and that you’ll eventually recover. I can’t even imagine trying to cope when you don’t know the cause, don’t understand the extent, and don’t know if you’ll get better or much, much worse.

    A medical exam doesn’t guarantee answers. A diagnosis doesn’t guarantee treatment will be effective or even available. I hope everyone in the LW’s office can be supportive and empathetic while Michelle tries to figure out what’s going on and how to cope at work.

  40. Swamp Witch*

    Oh wow I hope she gets help. That’s indicative of so many different issues that go beyond her professional world.

  41. H.Regalis*

    This is heartbreaking and one of my own worst fears. Poor Michelle. I hope her memory lost is caused by something that is fixable and that she can get help.

  42. Gigi*

    I worked in a place where we had this exact situation, except my coworker was only in his 50s. It was incredibly heartbreaking. He didn’t give any outward signs of having issues, but at the end of the night (it was an evening shift with deadlines), he would not have any of his work completed and everyone would have to scramble to finish. At first it seemed like he was shirking, but it came out that he was trying and had forgotten the steps to complete his work. No one would have known if we hadn’t raised it – it had to be addressed with our big boss, and I don’t know what exactly was done (I’m sure it was all of the things Alison suggests), but the employee finally went out on medical leave. He tried to come back, which was a painful part – he came in when no one in our work area was there and gave me an envelope from his doctor that he said gave him permission to come back, and he only trusted me to pass it along – he was convinced everyone was out to get him. Sadly, he never was able to come back. (It was a form of cirrhosis that attacked his brain suddenly, but did not affect his liver. He lived for 15 years after that on disability. I really missed that guy, who had been so kind and quick-witted up until this medical event.) I absolutely think they all need to get together with the manager and explain what is happening. If someone appears to be going about their routines, it can be hard to see unless you’re right there being affected and watching it happen. The quicker it is addressed, the quicker she can seek treatment.

  43. Workfromhome*

    Its sad and it sounds likely that Mike will either be very slow to address this or not at all.
    While you wait for this to play out you must protect yourself. start CC everything you email to Michel. If you have a conversation with her about a task you ask er or she asks you to perform, send her an email confirming your conversation. In particular if its time sensitive.
    If you can have clients email about any complaints or concerns and forward to mile.

    1. Maybe if mike is bombarded with these emails and complaints enough it will force him to act just to stop the constant emails.
    2. You protect yourself if say something doesn’t get done. Michell says oh you never told me and you have to present the email that says “Yes I told you here is the proof” or “its not my fault Michell didn’t follow through.”
    It also protects you if she makes false claims against you that you ae harassing her, picking on her or “accusing” her of not doing her job. Unfortunately that can be a response from someone going through these issues.

    none of this is to hurt her or throw her under the bus but cover yourself especially when there is no formal HR.

  44. Csethiro Ceredin*

    Oh no, this is so difficult. My sympathies to everyone involved. Mike really does have to speak to her, and it’s a hard conversation to have. I hope she can at least be persuaded to ask others in her life if they’ve noticed anything.

    I went through something similar with an employee when managing retail in my early 20s. I tried (probably pretty clumsily) to compassionately point out what I had noticed an express concern, but she denied any problem and blamed poor training. I suggested speaking to the doctor but she blew me off.

    Eventually I had to fire her after she started making such huge mistakes that it couldn’t continue (coming in to open, finding she had the wrong keys, then just going home and starting to garden without telling anyone, leaving the store shut, and so on).

    Horribly, she kept showing up to work after I had fired her, because she had a paper copy of the schedule at home. I ended up having to have the conversation about four times before it stuck. I still think about her 20+ years later – I hope she did get some medical help.

  45. Sarah*

    My best friend’s sister developed early-onset Alzheimers at age 47 and her employer knew something was very wrong and didn’t do anything. My friend and her sister were many years apart, so not close, but each other’s only family. The sister lived alone and was a work addict. She worked in NYC and her office knew something was very wrong with her memory and brain. Didn’t even call my friend, who was her emergency contact. She would get lost in the office, be unsure of how to use the computer, and not remember people she had worked with for years. Obvious stuff. This all culminated in her ending up in a parking lot one day for work, being unable to find her car, panicking, having a co-worker come up to her to ask if she was ok, her not understanding who he was, running into the road and getting hit by a car. THEN, they called my friend. She ended up in a nursing home, which she never left, and died two years later. My friend is still so frustrated they didn’t simply give her a call to tell them what they were seeing.

  46. Punk*

    Since Michelle handles accounting, this going to become a big problem. However, if the company gets routine audits/reviews (often a requirement if the business takes out loans or has investors) that’s an external person or team who will be uncovering this stuff and forcing management to make a decision; auditors have to note competency issues.

    If you can, I would recommend sitting back and letting an external party force the issue. Management is avoiding the issue, so eventually they’ll have to deal with a missed rent, utility, tax, or vendor payment.

    1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

      I was just going to say this – it’s going to take a serious office malfunction for anything to be done, if Mike won’t do it, and terribly unkind for everyone if it it’s affecting business and being ignored. She deserves dignity during this, not “Look what Michelle did again!”

  47. KK*

    If this isn’t the onset of dementia, it could be a TBI or brain tumor. I hope she can get the help she needs.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, and it could also be long covid. Some people experience severe cognitive dysfunction and memory issues. Or UTI.

      The main thing is that she needs to see a doctor STAT.

  48. Ho-ho-holey hose*

    Oh no how sad :(

    I had several family members go through similar things before they were diagnosed with memory-impacting illnesses. I would hope her family and loved ones are seeing similar things and taking action on their own, but I know in my shoes I would have been really grateful to co-workers who raised concerns early on, because the earlier these things are identified the better. Obviously we don’t know for sure that this is an illness in this case though, but I can’t help but see it fitting the pattern of one.

    It is really tough dealing with this as a co-worker. It is very common for the people impacted by illnesses like dementia to be in denial. The ideal scenario is one in which her family notices and takes action – but it would be extremely overstepping to reach out to her family since you know her through work and not as a friend. Part of me wishes there was a process in place that would let your company notify her emergency contact, but as this isn’t actually an emergency I don’t know if that is an option.

    Documenting things and continuing to raise this to her as a serious issue may help. It might upset her and she might ignore it, but it does increase the liklihood she gets checked out, OR that she starts complaining to family and loved ones at home and they see the same pattern and take action themselves.

  49. Abogado Avocado*

    I agree with everyone who says this is heartbreaking. You are obviously a compassionate person, OP.

    Before you and your teammates sit down with Mike, please gather the phone messages, and emails from clients who have complained or protested about Michelle’s actions. Then, you and your teammates should make a bulleted list of memory issues that you’ve observed Michelle having, along with the dates you’ve observed these issues. Put all of these documents — the bulleted list, the phone messages and emails — together in a dated handout you give Mike, making sure to keep a copy for yourself. Sometimes, bad managers need to have all information gathered in one place to understand how serious things are and the potential impact to a business’ bottom line.

    Additionally, by putting all this information together in writing, it allows you to consider escalating the situation above Mike to the business owners if he fails to act.

  50. Incognito Ergo Sum*

    Another thing that can cause EXTREME changes in personality is ammonia levels–which can happen from bowel obstructions, liver disease, kidney problems…and it can start out slight and escalate. IANAD but a family member has this. There are non-alcoholic forms of liver disease that can cause symptoms that are similar to the alcoholic forms of the same disease.

    This whole scenario is scary and I wish everyone the best of luck.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Ammonia levels can cause somebody to suddenly turn into an entirely different person with terrifying swiftness–it’s one of the conditions that back in Olden Days would have been deemed demonic possession and nobody would have argued.

  51. HighSchoolisHell*

    Years ago, my parent’s long-time tax advisor got Alzheimer’s. He and his family were in denial for a long time so he kept working for several years, all the while keeping his declining mental faculties a secret from his business partner.

    Things came to a head when someone realized he’d been making catastrophic mistakes with individual and corporate tax returns for quite a while. It ended up costing the company a significant amount of money and damage to their reputation.

    It’s a super sad situation, but management needs to step up or there could be big repercussions..

  52. Snooks*

    This is tragic. Michelle’s coworkers should meet privately (without Michelle) and make a list of the things that are affecting the business, giving examples of interactions with clients. Next make a similar list of things that impact their work in house. Share any information they may have about her family and living arrangements. Is there a relative who might help. Write it up. Everyone signs it. Take it to Mike as a group. If he doesn’t act, go to the next level.

  53. Temperance*

    Some practical advice: you all need to approach Mike as a group, when Michelle isn’t present, and talk to him about your concerns. You know him, we don’t, so if you think this isn’t feasible, what about calling his boss / your owner?

    What you could also do, if you’re close with any clients and they complain to you, is suggest that they address it with the person above Mike.

    Not knowing her family situation, and having experienced dementia and memory issues in extended family, I will say that somewhat often, the family is also in denial of what they’re seeing. I’ll never forget my in-laws laughing off my GMIL introducing my eldest BIL to his cousin as if they had never met before. She later introduced me to another cousin who I had known for ~10 years at that point. They wrote her issues off as “depression” and “brain fog” from losing her husband, when it was dementia.

    And this woman was over 80, so not a case of early-onset anything.

  54. Forrest Rhodes*

    Add me to those hoping that Michelle’s closest office friends can persuade her to check with her MD.
    At one point my mom started showing Alzheimer’s-like signs; got her to the doc and it turned out to be a UTI.
    I was astonished to learn that mental fuzziness is a not-unusual sign of UTI.

    1. Forrest Rhodes*

      Forgot to add: We were all happy to know it was something treatable, and Mom was soon back to her usual self.

    2. Minerva*

      It’s wild how UTIs can affect people. We had been afraid that my MIL had dementia and turned out to be reoccurring UTIs.

      So yeah, true that memory loss can have very treatable circumstances.

  55. Pip*

    This is so painful – for everyone involved but especially Michelle. I hope there is some way to keep her on in a reduced roll, as the routine and social interaction at work (not to mention the paycheck) are things she really needs. Obviously her behavior can’t continue to negatively impact the business though. Really hope they can figure something out.

  56. SBT*

    Oh man, this is bringing up a memory from my first job I had completely forgotten about. I was a teacher and another teacher in our grade level was showing a lot of these same symptoms. She’d forget she was supposed to have a class and would leave campus! Or wouldn’t come to a meeting, or if you talked to her about a kid she’d act like she’d never met this kid or heard their name before. It was so sad to watch, but also as others have pointed out, in many professions there’s a real danger to not addressing this. She ultimately had to retire because it wasn’t safe for her to be in charge of students, but still so, so heart-breaking and I’m sure as a 22-year-old I was not as sympathetic as I could have been – I just couldn’t see past the frustrations, extra work, and safety concerns she was causing.

  57. Conundrum*

    OP, how do you know what medications are being taken by someone else? Also, brain fog is a well-known impact of long covid. Extend grace.

    1. Don't kneel in front of me*

      The medication comment took me by surprise–how could OP possibly know the medications?

      That being said it sounds like OP is extending grace. They seem genuinely concerned for their coworker.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Most other letters the answer would be “the person in question shares this sort of thing all the time” but of course given the context, that would be meaningless. I genuinely wonder if OP managed not to make that connection.

  58. Conundrum*

    Seconding untreated UTIs causing behavioral symptoms, happened to my mom several times.

  59. chs.29*

    Oh, this is so difficult. It’s so disappointing that Mike is unreceptive, because it is truly bigger than just his role as a manager – it’s a very crappy way to behave as a human.
    If Mike stays unreceptive, I hope Michelle might be receptive to a private conversation with coworkers. And if not… I think this might be one of the *very* rare instances when it would be okay to reach out to a known family member (if there is anyone). When my aunt was struggling with substance abuse, this is how her husband found out. A coworker called him out of genuine concern over severe attendance and memory/focus problems, and he was able to get her the help she needed.

  60. Sis29*

    This happened to a dear friend of my husband’s, who worked with her for more than two decades. Although she was otherwise in excellent health, her comprehension and quality of work became gradually and then very noticeably impaired in her late fifties. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, left her job 7 years ago, and passed away after a brutal fight with the disease just last week.

    Please, I urge you to be gentle and kind to your co-worker, who may have a very difficult road ahead.

  61. Mikey*

    Oh man, poor Michelle! This is so sad. But it really is important that she sees a neurologist ASAP – we knew my grandma had memory issues for years, but she refused to go to a neurologist and the Alzheimer’s progressed far enough that the medicines that can slow down the progress couldn’t help. She would do scary things like trying to “fix” the wires when my grandpa was on life support, or calling my dad because “someone” hit her car in the parking lot, only for him to find a deer leg sticking out of the wheel well of the car. Memory issues are scary, but being proactive can make a HUGE difference. I hope Michelle can get help soon!

  62. MeepMeep123*

    Sounds like what happened with my wife’s employee. She had long COVID, then after her second infection, she developed cognitive issues like these (not as severe, but along the same spectrum). Brain fog is a well-known long COVID symptom, and given the way the pandemic is going, I’m sure there will be a lot more people struggling with these issues.

    In my wife’s case, she didn’t even have to have the conversation with the employee – the employee quit on her own because, I guess, she did realize that she couldn’t handle working anymore. It doesn’t sound like poor Michelle can keep working in this condition either.

  63. Don't kneel in front of me*

    This is a real long shot, but its worth investigating. Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can cause acute memory loss and similar symptoms to what she is experiencing. A furnace, water heater, gas stove, or any other fuel burning appliance can lose efficiency and leak over time.

    If I were in this situation I would help this person get a gas inspection first. Utility companies will do it for free and its very quick. It might not be the most likely thing, but it could potentially save A LOT of legal and medical headaches.

  64. Puzzlehead2219*

    Please, please say something. My dad had a brain tumor that would have killed him if he’d gone another day without diagnosis and treatment. No one said anything because they didn’t want to offend. If someone’s behavior changes, speak up.

  65. Sunshine Gremlin*

    I’ve made a couple comments about the dysfunction at my current job (I’m going to preface this by saying I am actively job searching) and this is one of the facets of dysfunction.

    One of the co-owners of my company has dementia and the other co-owner (who is related to him) is taking the Mike approach.

    He rarely comes into any of our locations anymore, but when he does, it’s a scramble because myself and the other owner need to be there to support him and ensure he doesn’t get hurt wandering. This usually falls to me because I have familial experience and he has bonded to me and forgotten that I’m not also his child. It’s… rough.

    Mike is doing everyone a disservice by ignoring this issue and, like Allison addressed, talking to him as a group is the next step in fixing the issues stemming from him ignoring the issue. Bringing examples of ways your workflow has been disrupted is probably the best way to demonstrate why you need him to step in.

  66. cmull*

    Understandably, many commenters are suggesting Alzheimer’s as a possible diagnosis. But consider that Long Covid is going to show up more and more in our workplaces as time goes on, and “brain fog” is one of the most common symptoms.

    1. Meredith The Gray*

      And menopause/peri-menopause can be a contributor to these types of symptoms as well, something not always well understood by people in general.

      The bottom line is only a medical professional can diagnose this person; at work, I think what Allison has recommended can hopefully push things in the direction of at least getting that under way.

  67. danmei kid*

    This happened with the head of R&D at a company I worked for some years ago. He was in his mid 50s and things became noticeably off with forgetfulness. Because of his position, people at his peer level intervened and had him get a medical exam. Turned out he had an aggressive brain tumor and passed away within a few months. These types of situations seem annoying but in reality can be very scary and everyone has different ways of dealing with this kind of thing.

  68. marcus by goldman sachs*

    “do any of you have the kind of rapport with Michelle where you could have a compassionate, discreet conversation with her where you explain what you’ve noticed and suggest she talk with a doctor”
    The problem is that if she is having memory issues (dementia or whatnot)…she most likely won’t remember the conversation. Or remember to follow through on making the appointment. Or remember to go to the appointment. Or be candid with her doctor about what’s been happening. Or her doctor may be utterly useless as anything related to memory loss and cognitive issues especially if that isn’t their specialty (which is often the case). And so on and so on.
    I’ve had like 5+ family members go through memory issues within the last 15 years and honestly, it is all just a long, downward slide from here :-(

  69. Naomi F*

    This situation is exactly what happened in my office. The issue did not get addressed and it truly impacted the entire team. I ended up quitting over it (and several other issues that my employer wasn’t addressing). What I am wondering is what are the requirements for an employer to continue to accommodate someone who keeps declining to the point of being unable to do the job. At what point is it necessary (acceptable, legal) to lay off the employee. In our situation this is a government agency and the employee has been declining for years. I am all for being compassionate but sometimes a reasonable accommodation cannot fix the issue.

    1. Mid*

      If someone cannot do a job with reasonable accommodations, their employer doesn’t have to keep employing them. That’s why it’s “reasonable accommodations” not “can never ever end employment for someone.”

    2. Katie*

      Yeah, there are a lot of comments about real harm (students who had a teacher with cognitive decline, somebody preparing taxes with huge penalties) to other people and all of them focus on how hard this is for the person with mental decline.

      And it is hard! Absolutely!

      But I hope there is some compassion left for the people negatively impacted by this. I hope there is some compassion left for people who go to work to do their job. Which isn’t diagnose a co-worker and get them to the doctor. I hope there is a little bit of compassion for how difficult it is to support somebody with these issues while also doing your job.

      Mental decline is absolutely awful but nobody deserves to work with somebody who cannot remember basic things. They just don’t.

  70. desiree*

    my first thought reading this was that Michelle has early onset Alzheimer’s. I realize as an employer it might be problematic to address that with her but she’s been there 15 years. I would hope that someone in the office could address their concerns with her as a friend, not as an employer or co-worker.

  71. DJ*

    So sad and often it’s really hard to get access to early super govt benefits etc and even if so unaffordable to live on these.
    Like the idea of suggesting a medical check up as may be a medical or meds issue.
    Worth calling a dementia or ageing helpline for advice.
    Do you know who her GP is, if so alert them so they can do the necessary tests and assessments

  72. Reading a good book*

    Seeing someone you care about struggle with memory issues is so, so hard.

    OP, please update when you can.

  73. Michelle Smith*

    This really sounds like it could be a medical issue, all the way down to the anger. I know we can’t diagnose people in the comments and in my experience, a conversation about it may be counterproductive (either because the person lashes out or because they don’t remember the conversation after it happened and so don’t act on it). I would love to say that the right thing to do here is to take her aside and tell her what you’ve noticed, but I honestly am skeptical that will go well. If you’re a personal friend and you know a spouse or other close relative that you can mention something to in confidence, maybe that would help. I know with my grandmother though, my grandfather had his head in the sand just as much as she did in the early stages of what she has. I don’t think there is an easy answer here that doesn’t involve Mike recognizing the business impact and doing something. I would consider whether/how much of the business is going to be negatively impacted by her behavior (and therefore how stable it will be in the future), how much your day-to-day is being negatively impacted by Mike’s unwillingness to act, and then deciding whether it makes sense for you to start looking for another job.

  74. GreenDoor*

    Maybe someone can answer this….as far as the ADA allowing an employer, under appropriate circumstances, to require a medical exam, can the employer specify what type of exam? Like can they say, “You must see an X-type of specialist for an assessment?” I’m just thinking the Michelle’s out there could just go see a primary doc who doesn’t have expertise in specific issues. Also, how would this work if it’s a situation where the affliction could be any number of things…example, maybe the person has a mental illness that affects memory perception or maybe they have a brain tumor, or maybe it’s dementia? I’m just trying to understand whether the ADA tips the scale toward an employer’s right to get to the bottom of something affecting the workplace or toward an employee’s right to chart their own healthcare course.

  75. Dancing Otter*

    We were afraid my mother was developing some form of dementia, but it was anoxia from a combination of COPD and congestive heart failure. Within five minutes of being given oxygen, she was wide awake and alert. Mom lived into her 90s, and as long as she used supplemental oxygen daily, she never had any more memory problems.

    I have a friend who gets almost irrational when she has an UTI. Another, when her blood sugar is out of control (poorly managed diabetes).

    This may well be something treatable.

  76. Mid*

    I think this is also one of the few situations when coworkers are ethically obligated to contact Michelle’s family (ideally Mike would do this, but OP or another coworker needs to do it if he won’t.) This is clearly a serious issue, that might be treatable, and can be incredibly dangerous to Michelle! (I have a gas stove—if I forgot about a pot on the stove, I could end up filling my home with gas, for example. If she’s having this many issues, I’d be very concerned about her safety at home and driving.)

  77. Shandra*

    I feel awful for everyone at OP’s workplace. A colleague of mine at a large firm, Max, made several mistakes including some big ones before being diagnosed with early onset dementia.

    Say that Max was the office supply manager, and I always picked up my own supplies and never had any special requests. So I never experienced Max’s mistakes firsthand, only heard about them.

    I knew Max lived alone and at least one parent was dead, and I don’t think any still-living immediate family members were local. The last I heard was that Max came to work one day, and burst into tears when the firm told them they were being let go.

  78. Me*

    I am a physician and would say that it seems fairly clear that there is a serious medical issue here as opposed to the kind of little age-related memory lapses everyone has as they get older. Denial of memory issues by the affected person is pretty common, because they don’t know that they are contradicting themselves/forgetting what they just ordered/etc.

    It’s possible that this is a reversible issue. I don’t know if anyone has the kind of relationship with Michelle or her family where they can have a personal conversation rather than a business-centered one, but I hope that someone can have that conversation. Sometimes, it sits better with the person if it’s centered around “things have changed for you in a fairly short period of time, and maybe if you meet with your doctor, he or she can help figure out whether there is something straightforward like an infection that can be treated easily,” rather than something harsher or bleaker. An infection of some type is a possibility here, although I don’t think it would be top of the list.

    Mike is going to continue to be useless. I wouldn’t bother to try to have him involved, unless as a last resort he is willing to tell Michelle that if she doesn’t see a doctor, she’s in danger of losing her job or getting disciplined. But I don’t think he’s going to do that.

    1. Pdweasel*

      Also a physician, and concur. The differential diagnosis is a mile wide, so it’s useless to speculate on what it *could* be—it’d serve everyone better to focus on what’s *already* being observed. It’s not unlike the time I’d been fighting off a gnarly chest cold for over a week in college, thinking I wasn’t *that* ill and I could ride it out with Dayquil and lozenges. One day after class, though, a professor strongly suggested I see a doctor, since my cough had been getting worse and I was clearly not feeling well. Sometimes the nudging of a third party is what’s needed.

  79. CA PA*

    There are a number of medical conditions, not necessarily illness, that can creep up and cause memory issues. Some are treatable. Thyroid, Vitamin B12 deficiency, small strokes, depression, sleep disturbances, COVID brain fog (didn’t have to be from severe illness), etc. This person needs medical evaluation, and appropriate treatment. How to help her get it, not sure. Can her family be contacted?

  80. Elzie*

    Someone who works closely with her, at a time that is not a stressful time during the day and not immediately after one of these memory lapses, should pull her aside and talk to her.

    I would frame it as “how are you doing” conversation, try to provide one or two concrete examples that they personally have experienced, and see what she says! Consider offering to talk to the boss with her about strategies to help her day go more smoothly (it could be burn out/stress related). You could also suggest seeing a doctor to double check on any medication interactions, etc.

    Try not to make it seem like the whole office is talking about her behind her back, try not to use hearsay examples, and try to make it a situation that can be tackled together. The defensiveness she has already shown likely indicates she already knows something is not quite right.

    Then – you’ve done your friendly/co-worker good duty and that’s all you can do. That boss of yours isn’t likely to suddenly be able to manage this situation and unfortunately it will likely lead to her quitting or being fired.

    We went through the exact same scenario although we had HR! But the manager refused to do anything. The employee eventually quit because of all the “drama” and “workload” although it was all due to her failing cognition sadly.

  81. Blarg*

    This afternoon, I got a call from my aunt. She has what has been early stage dementia but is likely progressing. We got onto the topic of aging and I mentioned that my dad was turning 80 this year.

    “Oh, when’s his birthday?”
    I told her.
    “That’s so great! That’s the same as my older brother’s!”

    Her older brother … is my dad. But until that moment, we were having what I perceived to be a very normal, run of the mill convo on what seemed to be a really good day for her. It can be so hard to see these things happening when it’s family or friends, cause you aren’t relying on them to complete tasks. And also because it’s easier to skip over the parts that are harder to align with the view we want to see.

    I’m so sorry for whatever is happening with your coworker. As others have said above, it is perhaps the most terrifying of potential human experiences for me, to lose my memory and not know it.

  82. Dawn*

    In this case, I think that even if it is an overstep – YMMV – something still has to be said, because at the rate that Michelle appears to be declining she may inadvertently become a danger to herself or others. You’ve pointed out that she has forgotten something completely routine that she’s done for years; perish the thought but what happens when she’s driving home and forget which colour light means stop and which means go?

    Safety and compassion both dictate that someone must intervene here, and the logical people to do that are the people who see her and work with her every day and can see it happening. Michelle needs help, before that option is taken out of her hands.

  83. Numbat*

    Can I just say, big hugs and many thanks to everyone who has shared their own stories in the comments? I’ve learned a lot and feel I’d have more avenues to pursue if anyone I knew started experiencing this. And sorry for your losses, those who have had them.

  84. CarlDean*

    I feel for everyone in this letter. A few years ago, the brilliant attorney in my office, the one known as a true intellectual, the most accomplished in the office…started experiencing early stage dementia symptoms. This became increasingly apparent in the middle of an important trial, and was noticed first by the young associates on the case, who didn’t know what to do and were afraid to say something. They eventually gathered the courage to discuss with a managing partner (a very good friend of the attorney in question), who thankfully did not just dismiss and stepped in to handle appropriately and with compassion. The managing partner looped in the wife/family of the attorney, and in very short order the attorney medically retired. (He unfortunately had a very steep decline and passed away a couple of years later).
    It’s such a difficult and uncomfortable situation, but one you cannot just ignore.

  85. Marna Nightingale*

    Also, just in general… I really like this answer of Alison’s.

    One of the issues we covered in first-aid training is the vexed question of when consent meets impaired cognition. Especially since “lack of insight into one’s own cognitive deficits” and, especially in cases of hypothermia and head injuries, “angry and combative rejection of any kind of assistance, however tactfully expressed” are often major and urgent symptoms of something being really really wrong.

    This stuff is HARD. Mentally, emotionally, ethically, professionally, you name it, it’s hard. All you can do is your best.

  86. Bopper*

    I had a coworker who started having trouble doing her work…people were noticing…she was working late just to try to get her work done…and even then another coworker had to take over the task just to get it done… it turns out she had early stage Posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), a rare, visual variant of Alzheimer’s disease. It affects areas in the back of the brain responsible for spatial perception, complex visual processing, spelling and calculation. Once she was diagnosed she realized she couldn’t work anymore. We all go out to lunch occasionally (including her) and she doesn’t drive and she can’t deal with money but we still enjoy her company.

  87. SawtheSameThing*

    I was in a similar situation where one of my counterparts (a young, seemingly healthy person) started asking me a lot of questions about processes that were well established & general knowledge. My manager shared in confidence that they were suffering health issues that resulted in memory loss. Because this person was client-facing they were slowly removed from meetings & client communication (with their consent, I believe). Apparently sometimes they would forget that was established however. I left the company around that time, but it was a very delicate situation for all involved.

    I think your manager will be best suited to seek council, start thorough documentation and consider what could be done to alleviate undo stress for all while accommodating Michelle’s newfound work restraints.

  88. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    This problem has 2 aspects: the personal aspect of Michelle’s need for medical help, and the business aspect of how this is impacting the company and its ability to do business effectively. I feel really sad for Michelle, and also worried about the future of this business.

    I really wish the LW had given 7s just a tad bit more detail about the company structure. She said that Mike is a manager who “oversees our company,” but it’s not clear if he’s the owner or if there could be anyone over him. This is a key piece of information,

    If Mike is not the owner of this business, the owner(s) need to be looped in, pronto, before Mike’s refusal to manage has disastrous results for the company and everyone whose livelihood depends on it. It sounds like Michelle’s role is one that performs a lot of important functions and interacts with clients a lot. That has very different implications for the coompany than if she were in a less key role. A responsible owner would want to know what’s going on before it’s too late to save the business.

    If Mike is the owner and thus not accountable to anyone else, I’m skeptical about whether he can ever be made to handle this situation properly. Lots of suggestions of things to try have already been made, and I hope some of them are effective. If all attempts to make Mike wake up and smell the coffee fall flat, I like the suggestion others have made, to talk to a family member, in the hope of at least getting some help for Michelle.

    I’m just afraid that Mike may continue to keep his head in the sand until it’s too late, and I would urge LW and her coworkers to at least keep an eye on the job market, in case they all end up needing to find other employment.

  89. Jim S*

    My fiancé, before I knew her, had similar condition. Her job told her that she would need to get checked out or get terminated. She ended up having a brain tumor and needed to have a shunt to drain fluid. She then had a stroke. While she is still able to do many things normally, she is unable to drive or do most jobs because parts of her memory constantly fail her enough to perform most jobs at even a minimum level. Other parts of her memory are completely normal.

  90. Here for the Insurance*

    You have my sympathies, OP. We’ve had this kind of situation twice at my office and it was awful both times.

    In the 1st case, it came to a head when we forced a sit-down with the employee, her supervisor, an HR rep, and the supervisor’s manager. The employee insisted there was nothing wrong and screamed that we just had to talk to her supervisor — who was sitting right next to her, but who she didn’t recognize. When it was pointed out to her that he was right there, you could see terror and then defeat all over her face. She retired. And her daughter got mad at us for “forcing” her mother out (i.e., making her daughter take care of her instead of us doing it) and kept bringing her to office parties where daughter read us the riot act.

    2nd case ended when the employee collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital. This after weeks of getting lost in the building and us getting calls from other offices asking us to come get him. I think he knew how bad it was getting and wanted to leave, but his wife wouldn’t let him. She tried to browbeat us into taking him back after he went home from hospital. His boss wanted to do let him but other staff threatened a walk-out and he caved.

  91. I.P.*

    Could be a medical issue that is an autoimmune process that causes a type of meningitis, there is are articles about this and called “ Brain on Fire”. Someone also needs to contact her family! Document, document.

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