Avoiding Depression in Loved Ones with Dementia (Part 1)

December 16, 2010

Part I – What is depression?  What are the symptoms?

In the early stages of the disease process, most dementia patients know they are losing their memory or at least that something isn’t right.  This was the case with my relatives with dementia and with my father-in-law.  Depression is a nearly unavoidable side-effect.  Because depression can mimic dementia or make it worse, caregivers need to do everything they can to minimize this problem.  There are two basic approaches, behavioral treatment and medical treatment, both of which I will attempt to cover in parts  2 and 3 of this blog.  First, it’s important to understand what depression is and what the symptoms are.

What is depression?  Dictionary.com defines it as “a condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal.” Depression is not something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of.  It’s all about the chemicals in the brain which may be produced in smaller quantities than they ought to be for depression not to be a factor.  Here are some symptoms to watch for:

1.    Anxiety (anxious expression, worrying)
2.    Sadness (sad expression, sad voice, tearfulness, crying)
3.    Lack of reaction to pleasant events (no smiling, laughing, enjoyment)
4.    Irritability (easily annoyed, short tempered)
5.    Agitation (restlessness, handwringing, hairpulling)
6.    Multiple physical complaints / Hypochondria
7.     Acute Loss of interest (disinterest in usual activities)
8.     Change in Appetite (eating more or less than usual with accompanying weight loss or gain)
9.     Lack of energy (fatigues easily, unable to sustain activities)
10.   Sleeping more or less than is normal
11.    Suicidal issues (feels life is not worth living, has suicidal wishes, or makes suicide attempt)
12.    Self-depreciation (self-blame, poor self-esteem, feelings of failure and worthlessness)
13.    Pessimism (anticipation of the worst)

According to numerous studies, depression is very common among dementia patients and very much under-diagnosed by physicians.  Be an advocate for your loved one.  If you are concerned he or she may have depression, talk seriously about it with his or her physician.

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