May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we would be remiss if we didn’t take some time to discuss how mental health issues can affect those living with dementia and their caregivers.
Depression is commonly associated with Alzheimer’s. Experts estimate that up to 40 percent of people living with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from significant depression. Identifying depression in someone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s isn’t always easy, but it’s important that family and caregivers keep an eye out for the symptoms of depression and seek help if they suspect their loved one may be depressed.
Many symptoms of Alzheimer’s mimic the symptoms of depression, such as apathy, social withdrawal, isolation, difficulty concentrating, and loss of interest in activities. Someone with dementia who is also suffering from depression may experience sadness, hopelessness and guilt, among other feelings, but they will often find it difficult to articulate these feelings due to cognitive impairment as a result of the dementia. Depression in someone with dementia may be less severe, or have symptoms that come and go.
No matter how severe, if you notice any signs of depression in your loved one, discuss them with your loved one’s primary care provider. Diagnosis and treatment of depression can be especially helpful and may improve your loved one’s ability to function and overall sense of well-being. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about getting a referral to a geriatric psychiatrist who specializes in diagnosing and treating depression in senior adults.
Diagnosing Depression in Alzheimer’s
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in order for a person with dementia to be diagnosed with depression, he or she must display a depressed mood or decreased pleasure in usual activities along with two or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:
• Withdrawal or social isolation
• Disruptions in appetite not related to another medical condition
• Disruptions in sleep
• Agitation or slowed behavior
• Fatigue or loss of energy
• Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or inappropriate or excessive guilt
• Recurring thoughts of death, suicide plans or attempted suicide
Treating Depression in Alzheimer’s
If your loved one has been diagnosed with depression, there are a variety of treatment options available. In most cases, successful treatment for depression in someone with dementia involves a combination of medicated and non-drug approaches, such as:
• Support groups
• Scheduling a predictable daily routine
• Celebrating small successes and occasions
• Finding a way for the individual to contribute to family life
• Offering reassurance of love, respect and appreciation
• Nurturing with favorite foods or soothing activities
If your loved one’s doctor has prescribed a medication to treat his or her depression, be sure to ask about any risks and benefits, as well as possible interactions with other medications.
It isn’t just those living with dementia who are susceptible to depression. Many caregivers also experience depression. Caregiving for someone living with dementia is a hard job and it can lead to feelings of stress, guilt, anger, sadness, isolation and depression. Sometimes caregivers experience depression right after their loved one is diagnosed with dementia, while others may experience it as the cognitive abilities of their loved one diminish.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, know that you aren’t alone and help is available. Symptoms of depression include:
• Becoming easily agitated or frustrated
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Thoughts of death, dying or suicide
• Disturbed sleep
• Fatigue or loss of energy
• Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
• Difficulty thinking or concentrating
• Changes in appetite and weight
• Physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain
If you or your loved one living with dementia is experiencing any symptoms of depression, please seek help from your physician as soon as possible.