Dealing With Depression In Dementia Patients

Dementia is a term for the kinds of illnesses that deal with the loss of brain function as it relates to memory, ability to communicate, ability to judge, and ability to function in everyday society. Under this umbrella you will find such terms as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, to name but a few. Patients who are affected by these diseases come from all walks of life, and for this reason it is quite frequently possible that a patient finds the diagnosis intolerable.

For those who have just been diagnosed as well as for those who are living with the illness, depression is a very common additional condition that will befall them.  After all, an active patient will have a hard time reconciling her or himself to a lifestyle that involves giving control of finances and basic living decisions over to loved ones.  Similarly, since these diseases are incurable, she or he will often have to battle with the finality of the diagnosis.  Caregivers may sometimes have a hard time determining if depression has snuck up on their loved ones, but as a general rule of thumb, a prolonged exhibition of some of the symptoms of depression is a good indicator that something is amiss:

Your loved one may suffer from the doldrums for extended periods of time where nothing and nobody will be able to cheer her or him up.

She or he may voice to you concerns of becoming a burden, being worthless, or feeling extremely guilty for “doing this”, meaning getting sick, to you and the family.

The patient may be considering suicide and may either discuss it with you or you may get the feeling that she or he is leading up to it, for example by stashing large amounts of pills.

Your loved one may suddenly drink or smoke more than previously.

She or he may lose sleep or in the alternative sleep all day and refuse to get out of bed.

If you notice these kinds of behavior in your loved one, you will need to step forward and help her or him to deal with what apparently is a case of depression.  Sometimes a patient may not be aware of the accompanying depression and instead believe that the symptoms are part and parcel of the dementia.  This patient will see a dramatic increase in her or his quality of life when the depression is adequately dealt with.

Treatment for the depression must begin with a proper diagnosis.  Please remember that only a professional will be able to diagnose this malady, so it is important to have your loved one visit a doctor as soon as possible for an evaluation.  Sometimes another illness may be mimicking the symptoms of depression, while other times they might be a very real side effect from one of the medications taken to deal with the patient’s dementia. If it is indeed decided that your loved one suffers from depression, you may to have your loved one visit a psychiatrist.  If she or he is elderly, a psychiatrist who specializes in geriatric psychiatry will be your best choice. Treatment will depend on the severity of the depression.  If it is mild, then regular visits to the psychiatrist for “talking therapy” may be indicated.  For the more severe cases, more frequent therapy and medication may be needed.  At other times, the doctor may feel that your loved one will need to receive more outside stimuli from others suffering from similar conditions and will be able to steer you toward support groups who will offer times of socializing as well as activities.  Very often a combination of treatment options may be indicated.

In some cases, a caregiver’s depression may rub off on the patient suffering from dementia, and feelings of extreme guilt coupled with witnessing the anger, frustration, and sheer exhaustion of the caregiver may drive a patient to also give in to bouts of depression.  For this reason it is imperative that the caregiver will take excellent care of her or himself as well.  If this means that you will need to join a support network yourself to vent once in a while, and also to get some outside help with some of the tasks, then do not be hesitant to contact the local social services department. Your taking care of yourself may very well be the key to continued emotional well being in your loved one!