Depression is defined as lower mood, sadness, loss of interest and enjoyment in things, and a reduction in energy over the course of at least two weeks. Many persons experience depression or periods of depression over their lifetime. In fact, approximately 40-50% of individuals living with dementia experience depression at some point in their journey. Therefore it is important to recognize the symptoms of depression to better support and care for your loved one or relative with dementia.
The symptoms of depression are quite similar to those in dementia, including loss of interest, decreased mood, difficulties sleeping, an increase in confusion, and loss of appetite. However, this does not mean that the symptoms are the same and that persons living with dementia also have to live with depression for the rest of their lives. There are ways to help mitigate depression and cope with the diagnosis once you recognize the symptoms. If you begin to notice any of these symptoms or an increase in these symptoms, it is important to speak with your doctor and explore resources that will help your loved one.
Depression might arise due to a recent diagnosis of dementia, social isolation from activities your loved one previously participated in, embarrassment, increased fatigue, or side effects from prescribed medications. As a care partner, it is important to support your loved one and understand what they are going through. Encourage participation in new activities, develop a new routine, and know their limits. In doing so, this will not only better cope with feelings of depression but also help to reduce some of the symptoms associated with dementia. Individuals living with dementia should continue to participate in social and physical activities to remain cognitively stimulated and physically healthy. Physical activity, even a short walk in a nature setting, can increase endorphins, ultimately boosting a person's mood. This is not only beneficial for a person living with dementia, but also for care partners to help reduce stress.
While depression and dementia are difficult topics to approach in conversation, it is important to seek help earlier rather than later to gain support and find ways to cope. Simply asking how your loved one is really feeling and having a meaningful conversation with them might help to start the discussion on depression and dementia. Encourage individuals to share with you and support them in ways that they want to be supported. Persons will not accept help if they do not believe they need it. Be caring, kind, and understanding and do not be afraid to start the conversation.
Alzheimer Society of Canada. (2017, November 8). Depression. Retrieved from https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/Living-with-dementia/Understanding-behaviour/Depression
heretohelp. (2013). Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/seniors-and-depression-the%20difference-between-depression-and-dementia
Muliyala, K. P., & Varghese, M. (2010). The complex relationship between depression and dementia. Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, 13(2), S69-S73.
World Health Organization. (1992). The ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioural disorders: Clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization.