Recognizing Elderly Depression With Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Is depression a factor in causing dementia, or does a dementia diagnosis lead to elderly depression? While the specific link is unknown, it is clear that depression is quite common among the elderly population with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, experts estimate that up to 40% of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from significant depression. Unfortunately, identifying depression in someone with dementia can be difficult due to overlapping symptoms, such as social withdrawal, isolation, trouble concentrating, impaired thinking and lost interest in activities and hobbies.

It can also be difficult to spot depression as a result of Alzheimer’s impact on a senior’s ability to articulate sadness, hopelessness, guilt and other feelings associated with depression. When identifying depression in elderly individuals with dementia, doctors must focus more heavily on nonverbal cues and caregiver reports.

To make a diagnosis, doctors will also consider medical history and conduct a physical and mental examination. It is possible that the symptoms are the result of medication or another medical condition.

The National Institute of Mental Health created guidelines for diagnosing depression in people with Alzheimer’s. According to their guidelines, a person must have either depressed mood or decreased pleasure in usual activities, and at least two of the following symptoms for two weeks or longer:

  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Disruption in appetite that is not related to another medical condition<.li>
  • Disruption in sleep
  • Agitation or slowed behavior
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or inappropriate or excessive guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, suicide plans or a suicide attempt

Notify a senior’s doctor if you notice these signs. Elderly depression may potentially worsen cognitive decline and daily function, causing increased dependence on others. Diagnoses and treatment of depression can improve the well-being and function of elderly individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

Treatment for depression typically involves a combination of antidepressant medication, counseling and gradually reintroducing previously enjoyed activities and socialization. Non-medical approaches such as support groups and regular exercise can also have positive results.

Caregivers should acknowledge the senior’s feelings and respond with love and reassurance that they are not alone.

Caregiving is demanding – especially when caring for an elderly loved one with dementia and depression. Caregivers must maintain their own wellbeing to provide the best care and avoid burnout. Some caregivers benefit by teaming with a private duty home care company, which allows them the respite needed to recharge.