Depression is a common mood disorder that can affect children, teens, adults, and seniors. More than just feeling down or blue, depression is characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Individuals living with depression may also experience a lack of enjoyment in daily activities. Older adults, especially those living with Alzheimer’s disease, are at an increased risk of developing depression. Research shows that 40% of seniors with dementia also have symptoms of depression.
Learn about how depression affects those living with dementia, including symptoms and treatment options, in this blog from The Bristal.
Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults with Dementia
There are a few reasons that diagnosing depression in an older adult living with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult. First and foremost, cognitive impairment may affect your loved one’s ability to express how they are feeling. Additionally, since depression and Alzheimer’s disease share some similarities, it can be difficult to determine what is causing the symptoms.
There are minor differences in how depression affects those living with Alzheimer’s disease. While the symptoms are similar, for individuals living with dementia the symptoms might be less severe and not as persistent. In addition to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in daily activities, the symptoms of depression may also include:
- Decreased appetite
- Sleep disturbances
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Increased fatigue
- Decreased focus
- Thoughts of suicide
Additional symptoms specific to those diagnosed with dementia include agitation and/or irritability.
There isn’t a test to determine if you or your loved one has depression. A diagnosis is typically made by either a primary care provider or a mental health professional and is based on symptoms. To be diagnosed with clinical depression, symptoms must persist for at least two weeks and interfere with daily activities. Since common medications can cause depression symptoms, make sure you have a list of any prescribed medications available when talking with your primary care provider.
There are a variety of treatment options available for depression. Talk therapy is an evidence-based treatment that has proven effective for treating depression. However, depending on the severity of cognitive impairment, talk therapy may not be as effective due to memory loss and difficulty expressing feelings.
Medications to treat depression are available but need to be monitored closely in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. Additionally, research shows that antidepressants are not as effective in treating depression when dementia is also present.
While treating depression in those living with dementia can be challenging, there are steps caregivers can take. Simple changes in lifestyle like staying active, prioritizing rest, and staying engaged with family and friends may help to improve your loved one’s symptoms.
If your loved one’s symptoms worsen or they express suicidal thoughts, contact their primary care provider immediately.
Memory Care Resources
Discover additional memory care resources from The Bristal. Learn more about Lewy Body Dementia and How to Understand and Support Your Loved One with Dementia.