Tips for supporting a person with dementia who has depression or anxiety
Read about ways to support a person with dementia who has feelings of depression and anxiety. We also provide guidance regarding consulting the doctor.
Apathy, depression and anxiety
Someone with dementia who is feeling depressed or anxious will often find the following helpful:
- Talking about their feelings – if someone is feeling depressed or anxious, or something very upsetting or traumatic has happened to them, they may find it helpful to talk to someone close to them about it. (Patience and understanding will be more helpful than trying to get the person to ‘cheer up’.)
- Support to help them maintain social contact with other people – this will help them to feel less isolated.
- Persevering with treatment – those close to the person should encourage them to keep taking their medication or seeing their therapist even if improvement feels slow at the start.
- Keeping active – physical exercise is good for relieving feelings of anxiety and depression, and can also help people with sleep problems and apathy. Supporting the person to do other activities that they enjoy will often also help.
- Eating a healthy diet – a poor diet can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression, as can alcohol and caffeine. It is therefore a good idea to try to eat a healthy diet and not drink too much alcohol or caffeinated drinks.
Some people may also want to try complementary and alternative therapies. If a person would like to access these, they should first speak to their doctor.
Complementary and alternative therapies that may be of benefit include St John’s wort, aromatherapy, massage and bright light therapy.
Consulting the doctor about dementia, depression and anxiety
It is important to see the doctor if a person with dementia is behaving in an unusual or worrying way, or has deteriorated more rapidly than expected. These changes could be caused by apathy, depression or anxiety, or could be due to an illness or the effects of medication.
In order to diagnose apathy, anxiety or depression, the doctor will talk to the person with dementia and their carer. They will try to assess the person’s behaviour, mood and any changes that have occurred (for example, have they become more agitated or do they have less energy?).
It can be difficult for a doctor to diagnose depression in a person with dementia because the symptoms of depression and dementia are so similar. Symptoms of apathy and depression can also overlap.
Dementia and communication
People with dementia may also have difficulty communicating their low mood or feelings of anxiety to others. Because of this, a person’s dementia is put down to depression, and occasionally people who are depressed are thought to have dementia. Key differences in symptoms between depression and dementia are as follows:
- Depression tends to develop much more quickly than dementia (over weeks or a few months).
- Problems with speech, reasoning, and orientation in time and space are unusual in depression but are common in people with dementia.
- A person with depression may occasionally say they can’t remember things but will remember when prompted, whereas a person with dementia (particularly Alzheimer’s disease) will be forgetful and will often try to cover up memory loss.
- Where people with depression have very bad impairments in their reasoning and memory (for example, when depression is severe), this is mainly due to poor concentration. These problems are reversible with treatment or when the depression lifts, which is not the case with dementia.
Communication and language
Dementia can make it hard for people to communicate, and this can be upsetting and frustrating for them and those around them. However, there are many ways to help you support and communicate with each other.
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