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Dementia and depression can go hand in hand

Depression and Dementia: How to Identify It and Get Needed Help

Did you know that up to 40% of individuals with dementia also struggle with depression? That’s certainly not a welcome statistic, especially if you are caring for a loved one diagnosed with a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

What can be challenging is being able to recognize depression in a loved one with dementia. The reason for this is that dementia and depression share some common characteristics. The Alzheimer’s Association describes them as follows:

  • Apathy
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Cognitive impairment

When an individual with dementia experiences depression, however, it may manifest itself differently than in those without dementia. For instance, the symptoms may not seem as severe or last as long. Thoughts of suicide, often common in depression, are often not expressed by individuals with dementia.

What all this means is that if you are caring for a loved one with dementia, you’ll want to keep track of their behavioral patterns. You, after all, will have the best sense of what is within their “normal” limits and what behavior might be a sign of depression.

You’ll want to check in with your loved one’s physician if you suspect the onset of depression. While there is no single, definitive diagnostic test for depression, an experienced professional, often a geriatric psychologist, should be able to make a determination based on a full physical and mental evaluation.

Fortunately, there are treatments that can improve the quality of life and help maintain cognitive health for those with dementia and depression. While some of those treatments involve medications, there are things you can do to help as well. These include:

  • Acknowledge the frustrations and difficulties your loved one is experiencing. Don’t try to “talk them out of” their depression. Be clear that you understand and that you are on their side.
  • Create a daily routine with a few activities your loved one enjoys. Keeping to a predictable schedule helps reduce confusion and anxiety.
  • Schedule short outings to places that are of interest to your loved one.
  • Make sure your loved one is getting daily exercise.
  • Consider joining a support group. You will find that talking with other family caregivers about their concerns and sharing yours will help you better deal with your own stress.

It also bears mentioning that, just as there are resources to help your loved one with depression, there are resources to help you, as a caregiver, deal more effectively with your own emotional ups and downs. Contact us and we’ll be happy to share some of our resources and answer your questions. Remember, you are not alone!