The link between dementia and depression – how you can help

When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it can be an incredibly difficult time for all of those involved. The feelings of shock, despair and angst can all roll into one overwhelming emotion that no one is quite sure how to react to. Managing your feelings is vital. While we all want the person living with dementia to stay positive by focusing on the things that they can still do and enjoy, we must acknowledge that there can be bad days too.

In fact, depression can be a common mental health problem that people living with dementia will encounter. This can happen at any stage of the illness – upon learning the result of a diagnosis, during difficult days or when the person appears to take little interest in something they previously loved to do. While many people living with dementia can and do bounce back from these bad moments, there’s also the possibility that the low mood persists.

At Better Healthcare, our nurses and carers support people living with both dementia and depression on an everyday basis. In this article, we’re going to explore the links between dementia and depression and explore what you can do to help you and your loved one through this difficult period.

Defining dementia and depression

Dementia is the umbrella term for a set of diseases that have caused damage to the brain and a decline in brain function. Dementia can be triggered by Alzheimer’s disease, a stroke, a brain tumour, a head injury and other causes.

It presents many symptoms that can involve difficulties with thinking, memory, language/communication and problem-solving. At first, the symptoms tend to have little impact on the day-to-day but eventually, they increase in severity until they do impact the person’s daily life.

Depression can be defined as a state of low mood that brings about feelings of sadness or creates a loss of interest in activities. This can lead to a decrease in happiness, pleasure, energy, concentration and confidence. It can affect our whole life – from our sleep, to our work and hobbies, and even our ability (and desire) to interact with others. Depression can be temporary or persistent (which is defined as ‘chronic depression’).

The link between dementia and depression

There are many overlaps when it comes to dementia and depression. Both depression and dementia can affect a person’s memory and concentration levels. However, the two can combine to exacerbate symptoms. This has led to people with dementia being diagnosed with depression, and people with depression suspected of having dementia.

There has been a number of significant studies looking at the links between depression and dementia. One such study of well over 1,000 people was conducted by a neurologist – Doctor Jane Saczynski at the University of Massachusetts. The study was conducted over 17 years and found that those who had been living with depression at the start of the study were more likely to develop dementia than those who had not. While not at all conclusive, the findings were indicative of depression being a risk factor in the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Another study was published in 2016 by researchers in the Netherlands and was conducted over 11 years. They found that those over the age of 55 who had experienced an increase in symptoms of depression over the course of the study, were more likely to develop dementia than those with lower or variable levels of depression. As such, the researchers believed that escalating depressive symptoms in those over the age of 55 could indicate an early stage of the condition.

Consequently, current medical thinking does accept the link between dementia and depression – either as a potential early indicator of dementia or as a result of living with dementia.

For people who are depressed and living with dementia, life can seem twice as challenging due to living with twice the difficulties that both conditions can cause. This can lead to people with dementia experiencing more intense levels of confusion and withdrawal, aggression and poor sleeping and/or eating patterns.

How you can help a loved one with dementia

When you suspect that a loved one living with dementia may also suffer from a mental health problem or mental illness, the first step is to encourage the person to see their GP or to find other sources of support.

A doctor will try to assess the person’s mood and ask about any changes. Due to the overlapping symptoms of both conditions, the process may be lengthy and difficult.

In the meantime though, there are things you can do to help your loved one:

  • Try and get them to talk about their feelings. This approach is far better than simply telling someone to ‘smile’, and shows that you are being patient and understanding of their condition.
  • Encourage them to eat a balanced diet. The types of food we eat, as well as the likes of caffeine and alcohol, can affect how we feel. A healthier diet can, therefore, help curtail some of the symptoms of depression.
  • Motivate them to move, exercise or be active. Keeping ourselves active is an important step in countering depression – and the same is true for people living with dementia.
  • Keep your loved one socialising with others. This may be difficult, but it is important for your loved one to continue to have a social life or contact with family and friends. While dementia has the potential to change how family members and friends view them, it’s important to remind them that your loved one still appreciates and enjoys their company and support.
  • Seek out additional help like engaging a home care worker to come and help you, giving you time to rest and recharge. In the event that round-the-clock care is needed, consider our live-in care service. Both home care and live-in care services allow your loved one to remain in the comfort of their home and have the choice and control over the care they need.

Better Healthcare’s dementia experts can make a difference

At Better Healthcare, our nurses and carers have years of experience in helping to support people in the comfort of their own surroundings. We often provide companionship and support to those living with depression and dementia. Our care services can be individually tailored to offer as much or as little support that your loved one needs to continue to live a comfortable life.

To learn more about how our care services can benefit your loved one, get in touch with us on 0800 668 1234 or contact your local Better Healthcare Services office.

This post is not health advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current healthcare issues.

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