Depression can be difficult to recognise in a person with dementia, however, it should be noted that having both conditions can actually be very common. Depressive symptoms, such as lack of energy or poor sleep, have been reported to occur in approximately 40-50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Depression and Dementia are two separate conditions that require different support and treatments. Depression doesn’t occur because a person with dementia is lacking care. Elderly people with dementia who live in nursing homes are also particularly at risk of having depression.

According to Alzheimer’s Australia, depression is three to four times more common in people with dementia than in older people without dementia.

How to Recognise Depression

Because some symptoms are so similar, depression and dementia can often be misdiagnosed. Another reason why it can be difficult to diagnose is because some people with dementia have impaired communication, and cannot express the symptoms they are experiencing.

There are many signs to look out for when you suspect a loved one may have depression, symptoms that may be mistaken as part of the person’s dementia. Some things to look out for include;

  • Loss of interest and pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
  • Lack of energy
  • Poor sleep
  • Loss of appetite, leading to a decrease of weight
  • Persistent feelings of guilt
  • Increased confusion
  • Expressing feelings of worthlessness and sadness
  • Being unusually emotional, crying, angry or agitated

Usually these symptoms have to last for an extended period of time, longer than 2 weeks, for it indicate depression and not just a fleeting low mood.

What Causes Depression?

Though there are some signs that depression can be genetic, or that some people are more prone to it than others, there are also external factors that can contribute to depressive symptoms;

  • Side effects of medication
  • Physical illness
  • Social isolation
  • Fatigue
  • Reaction to diagnosis of dementia, and how that impacts their life
  • Environmental factors, such as the inability to screen out unwanted stimulation of loud noises and crowds

Treatment for Depression for Someone With Dementia

There are a number of options for treating depression. Some includes medication, but when a person has dementia that can lead to other side effects. Another option, which is non-pharmaceutical, includes things like counselling, cognitive therapy and behavioural interventions. Every person with dementia is uniques and what treatments work for some people might not be suitable for others. It is best to discuss this with a medical professional who knows all the details of the person well.

What Can You Do To Help?

As a loved one or a carer of someone who has been diagnosed with both dementia and depression, it’s important to get professional help. However, there are a number of things you can do yourself to support them.

  • Try to keep to a regular daily routine for the person with dementia, minimise change.
  • Adapt the person’s home and immediate environment to make it more manageable
  • Have a realistic expectation of what the person can do. Expecting too much can make both the person with dementia and their family and carers feel frustrated and upset
  • Reduce exposure to overstimulating or threatening situations
  • Be aware of when the person is least fatigued and do any important tasks at these times
  • Encourage some regular exercise, and allow them to get some sun
  • Help them to maintain some social interactions

It should be noted that these do not replace professional or medical treatments, and should be done in conjunction with diagnosed support.

To learn more, you can visit the Alzheimer’s Australia website or call at 1800 100 500

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