According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 40% of people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from significant depression. Depression is very common in Alzheimer’s and usually manifests in the early and middle stages of the disease.
The symptoms of depression and Alzheimer’s and dementia have many common threads, so it is important to have thorough examinations and discussions with physicians to ascertain a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Common symptoms for the conditions include memory problems, loss of interest in activities and hobbies, apathy, social withdrawal and trouble with concentration.
For the person with Alzheimer’s, depression can be difficult to articulate. Because of his or her cognitive impairment, feelings of sadness, hopelessness or other feelings associated with depression cannot be communicated properly. Sometimes the feelings of depression are the root cause of behavior.
The symptoms of depression can go up and down sporadically throughout the disease journey, although they are usually not as severe for someone with Alzheimer’s.
The diagnosis of depression in Alzheimer’s is complex and requires a physical and mental examination, interviews with the affected person’s caregiver and a medical history review. It might be helpful to find a geriatric psychiatrist who specializes in depression to identify and treat the condition.
Typically, to treat depression, doctors will prescribe an antidepressant, which can be helpful for maintaining a quality of life. Most antidepressants work by changing the activity of the neurotransmitters in the brain, and doctors work with the affected individual and caregiver to achieve the right balance and dosage.
There are also non-drug therapies caregivers can use to help their loved ones with depression. Exercise increases endorphins, a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system, that help bring about feelings of euphoria and general well-being. Regular walks, tai chi or any low-impact training can boost mood and help alleviate feelings of depression.
A structured routine with regular activities among family members and friends can help reduce the social isolation experienced with Alzheimer’s disease.
Finding things the affected person enjoys can make him or her feel more purposeful and content. Reminiscing, scrapbooking and movement with music are all simple activities that can enhance the individual’s well-being.
Pay attention to the person’s environment and make it conducive to healing from depression. Bright lights, loud noises and/or large gatherings can cause anxiety and depression, and thus exacerbate the depression.
Support groups and personal counseling are also avenues to explore to treat the condition, and acknowledging the affected individual’s feelings of sadness or apathy can provide the reassurance that he or she is loved and appreciated.