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January 24, 2022

Depression: The Common Companion to Alzheimer’s

As a caregiver for a senior who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, you may grow weary of questions from your loved one’s physician about behavioral changes. Of course there are changes! Isn’t that the nature of Alzheimer’s?

You may not realize the questions are actually probing for details to help pinpoint changes that aren’t directly tied to the disease but could be related. One example is Alzheimer’s and depression.

Depression is quite common during the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s. In fact, as many as 40% to 50% of people with Alzheimer’s experience depression. However, it can go undetected easily, because it often mimics behaviors that are expected as Alzheimer’s progresses.

Recognizing and treating depression can make a significant difference in the quality of life someone experiences as they navigate living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

Is it Alzheimer’s or Depression or Both?

Generally, Alzheimer’s and depression may share some symptoms. Examples include apathy, loss of interest in activities or hobbies, social withdrawal, isolation, trouble concentrating, and impaired thinking.

It’s important to recognize the experience for someone with Alzheimer’s and depression can look different from someone who doesn’t  have Alzheimer’s. The depressive episodes may be less severe and shorter (but may come and go). Also, suicide ideation and attempts are less common for someone with Alzheimer’s and depression.

What’s more, depending on where in their Alzheimer’s journey your loved one is, they may not be able to effectively communicate what they’re thinking or feeling. In fact, this is part of the reason the National Institute of Mental Health created guidelines specifically for diagnosing depression among people with Alzheimer’s; there’s less emphasis on verbal cues.

Ultimately, it may be difficult for you to determine whether your loved one is experiencing normal symptoms of Alzheimer’s or the added distress of depression. That’s why reporting your observations is so important.

A trained medical professional will use your observations along with looking at your loved one’s medical history and conducting a physical and/or mental evaluation.  

How Treatment Can Help

Left untreated, depression can actually exacerbate Alzheimer’s symptoms. It can accelerate cognitive decline, impede your loved one’s ability to complete daily tasks, and increase their dependence on you and other caregivers.

Treatment options include both medicinal and social/behavioral interventions. Antidepressants may be prescribed, but aren’t always as effective for people with Alzheimer’s and depression as they can be for those treating depression alone.

Other treatment options include exercise, which can stimulate feel-good chemicals that help minimize depression symptoms, and therapy (individually, in a group setting, or both), assuming the person has adequate communication, memory, and reasoning abilities to make it effective.

Some additional methods of treating depression include establishing familiar routines, encouraging participation in activities with others, increasing exposure to pleasurable activities, offering extra praise and reassurance, and creating opportunities for your loved one to celebrate success.

A depression diagnosis and treatment can be instrumental in helping your loved one find joy and happiness despite advancing Alzheimer’s symptoms, and it can ease some pressure on you as a caregiver.

Memory Care for Your Loved One

As your loved one progresses through the stages of Alzheimer’s disease, you may find yourself looking for a safe, supportive environment where they can feel successful and fulfilled. Our caring team at Springpoint at Manalapan is specially trained in memory care, so we’re able to help identify and treat common concerns that affect our residents, including depression. It’s all part of our person-centered approach that helps each resident thrive. Contact us to learn more about our memory care program in Manalapan, New Jersey.

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