Dementia and Depression in Alzheimer’s Patients: What Caregivers Need to Know

elderly man hand on foreheadDementia and depression have many common symptoms and can easily be confused. However, because they involve different treatment approaches, it is important for caregivers to understand and recognize their differences. Simply stated, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia result from a physical disease process whereas depression is behavioral in nature.

A loved one with both dementia and depression is doubly challenged and struggles on both the physical and emotional levels. These individuals typically find it even harder to remember things and may be even more confused or withdrawn. Depression may also magnify dementia’s symptoms, causing aggression, problems sleeping or refusal to eat.

Depression can be caused by emotional stress as well as the progressive physical changes caused by dementia. In the early stages of dementia, depression can result from a person’s worry about his or her memory and about the future. Chemical changes in the brain, caused by dementia, can also lead to depression.

Causes of Depression

According to mental health experts, depression is not uncommon in older adults and can result from a variety of factors including:

  • Traumatic or upsetting events
  • Bereavement
  • Isolation and lack of socialization
  • Lack of activity (physical and mental)
  • Continual stress or worry
  • Effects of certain illnesses or side-effects of medication
  • Past history of or genetic predisposition to depression or anxiety

Symptoms of Depression

It is important for caregivers of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia to be alert for depression’s signs and symptoms. While there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, depression is treatable and current therapies can spare your loved one additional hardship and discomfort. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Sadness, feelings of hopelessness or a continuing, irritable mood often
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness or undue guilt
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Aches and pains that appear to have no physical cause
  • Problems with remembering, concentrating or making simple decisions
  • Increased agitation and restlessness
  • Tiredness or loss of energy
  • Eating too little or too much (change in weight)
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Treating Depression

Because depression can be treated, it is important to alert your doctor immediately if your loved one is behaving in an unusual, worrisome way or has deteriorated more rapidly than expected. The doctor can speak with you and your loved one to assess his/her mood and any changes that have occurred in order to develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment options for depression are not quick fixes and may take considerable time to work. The most common treatments for depression are:

  • Psychological therapies (counseling, support groups, etc)
  • Anti-depressant medications

Counseling is usually best for those in the early stages of dementia.

Other options that can help include:

  • Participating in activities your loved one enjoys
  • Making sure there is a reassuring daily routine
  • Increasing one-on-one interaction with your loved one
  • Protecting your loved one from agitation and overstimulation such as bright lights and loud noises

What Can You Do to Help?

While you cannot reverse the progressive symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and you should seek professional help to address the symptoms of depression, there are things you can do to help your loved one and support his or her well-being. For example:

  • Keep your loved one both physically and mentally active.
  • Talk with your loved one about their feelings.
  • Make sure your loved one has a healthy diet (and avoid stimulants and alcohol).

Today, a variety of resources are available to assist caregivers who are caring for their loved one at home. These include Alzheimer’s Association services, support groups, self-help guides, respite care services, in-home support, community-based services and educational programs.

For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and appropriately provide in the home environment, leading memory care assisted living communities (MCALs) such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its New DirectionsSM are available to assist you. MCALs provide a safe, professional environment and proven, “best-practice” programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.

For more information or helpful resources about Dementia & Depression, contact us today!