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Depression & Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted on: Jun 02, 2021

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests that up to 40 percent of people living with dementia experience periods of depression. Left untreated, it can worsen symptoms of dementia and lead to a general decline in quality of life.

It can be challenging to distinguish the symptoms of dementia from the symptoms of depression, since people with dementia often begin to withdraw socially. 

The Mayo Clinic says that a diagnosis of depression in a person with Alzheimer’s disease can be made if someone has “significantly depressed mood [and is] sad, hopeless, discouraged or tearful” and also experiencing reduced pleasure during social activities.” In addition, to meet the diagnostic criteria, the person must have two other symptoms during a two week period including eating too little or too much, sleeping too little or too much, agitation or lethargy, fatigue, irritability, feelings of hopelessness and recurrent thoughts of suicide or death.

There are depression tests or scales that can help detect and measure depression (Christian Horizons uses the Cornell Scale for Depression in Dementia which employs direct observation along with interviews with the client and his or her caregiver), sometimes a low-tech view from family members can be just as valuable (“dad seems to have flat emotions – he is not getting pleasure from things he has enjoyed even just a few weeks ago.”).

If you suspect depression in your family member with dementia, consult your doctor. The anti-depressant medications can help.

The Pathway Memory Support program at Christian Horizons tackles depression in other ways – through music, friendship, purposeful activities, pet therapy, conversation and reassuring words, and time spent outdoors. Keeping your family member as engaged as possible in life, with lots of time outdoors during this summer season, can be therapeutic and prevent or help treat depression. 

Cathy Krewer, RN, MS, LNHA, is the Vice President of Clinical Professional Development at Christian Horizons.

Find a Dementia Friendly location near you.

Alzheimer's Association, Mayo Clinic