According to the Alzheimer’s Association, depression is very common in dementia sufferers, especially in the early and middle stages of the disease. However, the symptoms of dementia can often be very similar to some of those associated with depression. It is therefore important to recognize the warning signs and know what you can do to help your loved one cope, in order to maintain a good quality of life.
Dementia, Isolation and Depression
One of the results of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, is that it can cause a loved one with the condition to gradually withdraw from society. A decline in a senior’s ability to perform everyday activities due to dementia can result in them being less likely to want to face situations in which their cognitive issues are noticed. After all, if a person with dementia is finding it difficult to communicate, focus, speak or engage for lengthy periods of time, they can experience complex emotions, but it is also difficult for the people around them.
Seniors who are coping with the disease may feel that they are becoming a burden to their family members and friends. As a result, they may try to hide from activities they used to enjoy. This behavior, though understandable, can be dangerous for your loved one, because it further increases the risk of isolation and depression.
Disruptive or abusive behavior can also make it difficult for family caregivers to cope with their loved one. This too can lead to further isolation and depression.
As with any other condition, recognizing the warning signs for depression in a senior with dementia is key to getting the right treatment. This is not always easy, because the symptoms of dementia can be very similar to some symptoms of depression. They include the following:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty with communication and/or language
- Inability to pay attention or focus
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Decline in judgment and reasoning
- Problems with visual perception
The symptoms of depression, meanwhile, can include the following:
- Indifference or a lack of interest in the lives of others
- Lost interest in former passions, activities or hobbies
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Withdrawal from society
- Difficulty in thinking clearly or focusing
- Disruptive behavior or an inability to communicate or articulate feelings such as sadness, hopelessness, etc
Since many of the symptoms overlap or are very similar, family caregivers may find it difficult to recognize that their loved one with dementia is also suffering from depression.
If you are concerned that your loved one with dementia is also suffering from depression, there are steps you can take to ensure they are correctly diagnosed and treated.
Diagnosing Depression in Seniors with Dementia
If your loved one is displaying two or more of the above-mentioned symptoms of depression, you should arrange an evaluation with their physician. It can also be advisable to arrange a consultation with a geriatric psychiatrist, and your loved one’s physician should be able to refer you to a specialist.
The National Institute of Mental Health outlines a set of guidelines for diagnosing depression in people with dementia. The criteria are similar to those used to diagnose general depression, but there is less emphasis on verbal expression and includes irritability and isolation in the assessment.
This evaluation can include:
- A review of your loved one’s medical history (as the symptoms of dementia and side-effects of medications will need to be taken into account)
- A physical and mental examination
- Interviews with family members and friends
Treatment for Depression in Seniors
Treatment for depression in seniors with dementia can include medication and non-medical methods, and today, emphasizes improving quality of life, rather than the symptoms.
As the Alzheimer's Association explains, "The most common treatment for depression in Alzheimer's involves a combination of medicine, counseling, and gradual reconnection to activities and people that bring happiness."
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors are often used to treat people with dementia and depression, as they have a lower risk of causing interactions with other medication than standard antidepressants. However, the emphasis is very much on improving quality of life.
Support groups in your community that cater to both seniors with dementia and depression and their family caregivers, and counseling, can help, but there are other things you can do to help your loved one maintain a rich and rewarding lifestyle that can prevent isolation and combat depression. These include:
- Establishing a daily routine of regular waking hours, mealtimes, bathing, etc
- Helping your loved one stay active with light exercise
- Including your loved one in family life as much as possible and recognizing their contribution
- Scheduling frequent activities your loved one enjoys
- Communicating with your loved one and acknowledging their feelings of sadness or frustration
- Providing reassurance that your loved one is an important part of the family, will always be looked after in their own home, and will not be abandoned
- Praising and encouraging positive behavior and actions
How Home Care Can Help
While family caregivers can communicate with their loved one and assist with many activities in their loved one’s daily routine, it is not always possible to be there all the time. Trying to juggle a career, family life, and caring for a senior parent can lead to compassion fatigue, which in turn can have a negative effect on both the caregiver and their loved one. This is why hiring a Home Care company can be of great benefit.
A Home Care Aide can provide the assistance your loved one needs to perform daily activities such as bathing, toileting, dressing, meal preparation, light housekeeping, and transportation to social events. They can also provide assistance with medication reminders, and companionship at those times when you can’t be there.
To find out more about how Ezra Home Care can support you and your loved one with dementia, please contact is for a needs assessment and more details.