Caregivers of patients with Alzheimer’s often have a lot of questions when their loved ones are first diagnosed:
- How quickly may the disease progress?
- Can my loved one keep a regular schedule or attend events?
- How will this disease impact their quality of life?
A very important question they should ask is “Could my loved one be depressed?”
Identifying depression in someone with Alzheimer’s can be difficult since dementia can cause some of the same symptoms. Up to 40 percent of people afflicted with Alzheimer’s also suffer from significant depression. Common depression symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients can include:
- Cognitive challenges like trouble concentrating, impaired thinking or memory problems
- Apathy, including lack of interest in activities and hobbies
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Sleeping too much or too little
These symptoms are often more common in the early first and middle stages of Alzheimer’s, so caregivers and doctors may not know if the symptoms are related to Alzheimer’s or occurring independently. There is some evidence that Alzheimer’s-related depression may not just be a result of a patient’s life becoming more confusing but that depression may actually contribute to Alzheimer’s . Additionally, depression in a person with Alzheimer’s may be hard to diagnose, as the patient may not be able to verbally express or physically demonstrate these symptoms. The Alzheimer’s Association points out that “depression in a person with Alzheimer’s may be less severe; may not last as long and symptoms may come and go. In addition, the person with Alzheimer’s may be less likely to talk about or attempt suicide.”
It’s up to the caregiver to share the behaviors they’ve observed in their loved one with their health care provider.
Depression Treatment Options Vary
Once a doctor has determined that an Alzheimer’s patient is suffering from depression, setting a course of treatment can be complicated.
The Mayo Clinic suggests that physical exercise, joining support groups, getting counseling and participating in social activities can help. In fact, being part of a community can carry a lot of benefits in Alzheimer’s patient: feeling respected, understood, supported, and included in everyday community life. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that a caregiver:
- Schedule a predictable daily routine, taking advantage of the person’s best time of day to undertake difficult tasks, such as bathing
- Make a list of activities, people or places that the person enjoys and schedule these things more frequently
- Help the person exercise regularly, particularly in the morning
- Acknowledge the person’s frustration or sadness, while continuing to express hope that he or she will feel better soon
- Celebrate small successes and occasions
- Find ways that the person can contribute to family life and be sure to recognize his or her contributions
- Provide reassurance that the person is loved, respected and appreciated as part of the family, and not just for what she or he can do now
- Nurture the person with offers of favorite foods or soothing or inspirational activities
- Reassure the person that he or she will not be abandoned
To locate additional resources in your area, consider calling your local Alzheimer’s Association for references and suggestions.
Physicians may consider antidepressants as a treatment option for certain patients. Finding the right medication is critical, particularly as those most likely to have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are likely taking medications for other conditions.
Alzheimer’s is a challenging disease regardless if a patient is diagnosed with depression. Getting answers and understanding the solutions can help give caregivers and patients much-needed peace of mind.