Early Alzheimer’s is easily mistaken for depression, or vice versa. There are many similar symptoms such as memory problems, impaired concentration, social withdrawal, eating disorders, sleeping too much or too little, and loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. It is important to get a medical evaluation. If the culprit is depression, treatment may bring dramatic improvement.
Up to 40 per cent of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s become depressed. It is heart-breaking to face inevitable decline and struggle with ongoing loss of abilities. Untreated depression can make coping with Alzheimer’s even more difficult. Many people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s lack the insight or ability to express how they feel. Doctors must rely on nonverbal cues and the observations of care-givers. A thorough physical is also advisable to isolate other factors.
If a person with Alzheimer’s has become consistently sad, hopeless, discouraged, or tearful, or is no longer responding to social contacts or enjoying usual activities, and has two or more of the following symptoms, s/he may be depressed.
*eating too much or too little (unusual weight gain or loss)
*apathy/lethargy or agitation
*feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or irrational guilt
*obsession with death or suicide
*refusal to co-operate with personal care
*more frequent wandering than usual
Your doctor may suggest antidepressant medication, cognitive therapy, or a support group. If the depression is related to anxiety or distressing symptoms, the doctor may prescribe medication for them. S/he may also offer advice to care-givers and family members on how to cope with the depression.
If you are the care-giver of someone with Alzheimer’s, you can help stave off depression. Try to maintain a consistent daily routine in a pleasant environment with familiar faces and cherished keep-sakes. Avoid loud noises, unnecessary changes, and overstimulation. You can avoid a lot of frustration if you keep your expectations realistic. Let the person help with simple tasks that s/he finds enjoyable, and maintain a positive attitude. Frequent praise helps. Gentle massages, hand-holding, and other physical contact may act as a mood-enhancer.
Care-givers must also look after themselves, especially when times are difficult. If they are constantly tired, overworked and frustrated, it will show in their attitude. The Alzheimer’s patient will feel like an intolerable burden, which will promote further depression. Look for reliable respite care, and use it on a regular basis so that it becomes part of the routine. Don’t wait until an emergency occurs. Adult day-care centers can allow you to get other jobs done while your loved one is well cared for.
If you see signs of depression in a loved one with Alzheimer’s, check it out. Prompt treatment can greatly improve quality of life for both of you.
Sources and resources: