Depression is very common among people with dementia. Carers should know the signs of depression can include poor sleep, poor appetite, lack of energy and feelings of guilt. Depression may also be a side-effect of medication.
Depression is usually described as feelings of extreme sadness. It describes both a mood and a syndrome.
A depressed mood may be:
- A normal reaction to an event, such as the death of a loved one.
- A symptom of another disorder, such as hypothyroidism.
- Part of a syndrome of depressive disorder, such as major depression.
- Loss of interest
- Lack of energy
- Poor sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Feelings of guilt.
Depression and dementia
Depression is very common among people with dementia. Depressive symptoms have been reported to occur in approximately 40 to 50 per cent of people with Alzheimer’s disease. People in long term residential care appear to be particularly at risk of depression. Other things that may contribute to a person’s depression include:
- The side effects of medication
Reaction to diagnosis and perceived impact on lifestyle
- Physical illness
- Social isolation
- Environmental factors, such as the inability to screen out unwanted stimulation like loud noises and crowds.
Signs of depression
It can be very difficult to know if a person with dementia is depressed. Many of the symptoms of dementia and depression are alike. It can be difficult to tell the difference. Some of the typical signs of depression are:
- Loss of interest and pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
- Lack of energy
- Poor sleep
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Expressing feelings of worthlessness and sadness
- Being unusually emotional, crying, angry or agitated
- Increased confusion.
Where to begin
If a carer suspects that depression may be affecting for the person with dementia, it should be discussed with the person’s doctor. The doctor will be able to carry out a thorough medical examination to rule out other medical problems. Medication, such as an antidepressant, may be prescribed and can be very helpful in improving the symptoms of sadness. It may also improve appetite and sleep problems. The doctor can also arrange for any appropriate referrals, such as to the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT), or for specialised psychiatric assessment.
Significant improvements can be made by treating depression. Treatment can improve the person’s mood and their ability to participate in activities. It is important that, where depression is suspected, it is treated.
Treatment - medication may have side effects
Treatment with antidepressants often improves depression in people without dementia. Antidepressants can have side effects, which should be discussed with the doctor before treatment is started. Generally, newer more modern antidepressants have fewer side effects and are less likely to cause difficulty to the person with dementia than older drugs, such as tricyclic antidepressants. If drug treatment is ineffective, it should be ceased. If it causes side effects, the treatment may need to be changed. Usually, a trial of at least two weeks treatment is necessary to tell how useful the medication is going to be.
Things you can try
Some suggestions for dealing with depression include:
- Try to keep a daily routine for the person with dementia.
- Limit the amount of noise and activity in the environment if this causes a problem. This will help avoid over stimulation.
- Large group situations can make some people feel worse, while others may benefit from the stimulation of a busy, active gathering. It is important to know what the person has enjoyed in the past, as it is likely that similar activities will still appeal now.
- Have a realistic expectation of what the person can do. Expecting too much can make both the person with dementia and the carer feel frustrated and upset.
- Be aware of when the person is least fatigued and do any important tasks at that time.
- Be positive. Frequent praise will help both the person with dementia and the carer feel better.
Remember - carers need respite
Carers should try to make sure they get adequate breaks from caregiving, so that they do not become worn down by demanding behaviour. Use of day care centres, in-home respite, and regular residential respite are helpful ways to achieve breaks so that carers can continue in their role.
- Depression and dementia, an article by Associate Professor David Ames, Associate Professor of Psychiatry of Old Age, University of Melbourne.
- Depression and Dementia - A double jeopardy, an article by Associate Professor E Chiu, University of Melbourne.
- Information from your family doctor: Depression and Alzheimer’s disease, American Academy of Family Physicians.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Your local community health service
- Your local council
- Alzheimer’s Australia Vic, National Dementia Helpline Tel.1800 100 500
- Carers Victoria Tel 1800 242 636
- Carer Support and Respite Coordination Centre Tel. 1800 059 059
- Carers Resource Centres Tel. 1800 242 636
- Aged Care Assessment Services - contact your regional Department of Human Services office
- The Aged Care Information line Tel. 1800 500 853.
You might also be interested in:
- Dementia - carers and activities.
- Dementia - changed behaviours.
- Dementia - communication issues.
- Dementia - diagnosis and early signs.
- Dementia - different types.
- Dementia - how to encourage healthy eating.
- Dementia - support services are available.
- Dementia and memory loss.
- Dementia and sleeping problems.
- Depression - coping and recovering.
- Depression and ageing.
Want to know more?
Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
(Logo links to further information)
Alzheimer's Australia Victoria
Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: May 2012
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.
Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your qualified health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residence and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a qualified health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.
For the latest updates and more information, visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
Copyight © 1999/2013 State of Victoria. Reproduced from the Better Health Channel (www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au) at no cost with permission of the Victorian Minister for Health. Unauthorised reproduction and other uses comprised in the copyright are prohibited without permission.