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Depression and Dementia

Is Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease Also Depressed?

Depression and Alzheimer’s disease, especially in its early stages, have much in common in terms of behavioral changes such as sleeping longer, loss of appetite and withdrawal from activities once enjoyed. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, you may have noticed behavioral changes that concern you. Of course, you want to make sure you are caring properly for a loved one who may be depressed. But how do you know if your loved one is experiencing true depression, or it is just a manifestation of the disease itself?

The Mayo Clinic has written numerous articles on the topic of depression and dementia and the challenges of distinguishing between the two. Here are some of the symptoms that are common to those with depression and those with Alzheimer’s:

  • Sleeplessness or sleeping too much
  • Lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of concentration

The Mayo Clinic points out that one of the challenges for those with Alzheimer’s and depression is that the individual may not be able to properly communicate their feelings. That is why it’s important for them to have an evaluation by an experienced professional.  

To diagnose depression in an individual with dementia, doctors will work with family members as well as through their own observations. They will look for at least one of the first two of the following symptoms, combined with at least two of the other symptoms. All should be present within a 2-week period.

  • Reduced pleasure observed in response to social interaction and activities
  • Withdrawal and social isolation
  • Sleeping too little to too much
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Irritability
  • Agitation or lethargy
  • Loss of energy and fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

It should be noted as well that, in some cases, individuals with Alzheimer’s who are experiencing depression may actually present with less severe symptoms, or periods of depression that don’t last as long as they might with an otherwise healthy individual. That’s why a professional evaluation is necessary.

If you suspect that your loved one with Alzheimer’s may also be depressed, it is important to have a trusted physician evaluate them carefully to assess whether or not they are also clinically depressed. If they are, there are several potential treatment options, depending on the nature and severity of the depression. Remember, you are not alone. Instead of waiting and worrying, reach out for professional help. You’ll be glad you did.