Crystalizing the Two Links Between Dementia and Depression
Dementia and Depression

Crystalizing the Two Links Between Dementia and Depression

Everyone feels down from time to time, but the link between dementia and depression is much stronger than a one-off feeling. In fact, much of the latest research suggests depression affects those with dementia in two different ways:

  • Those who have depression may have a higher risk of developing dementia; and
  • People who have dementia suffer from depression, which can make symptoms like forgetfulness and confusion worse. 

Let’s take a more in depth look at the different connections between dementia and depression.  

Depression Is Common with Those Suffering from Alzheimer’s

It’s estimated up to 40% of people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from substantial depression. However, actually identifying depression in someone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging because both conditions can all cause similar symptoms. For example, individuals diagnosed with dementia and depression both can suffer from:

  • Impaired thinking
  • Isolation
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Problems concentrating
  • Apathy

A person living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can have difficulty expressing their feelings of guilt, sadness, hopelessness, and other feelings associated with depression. In addition, depression with someone diagnosed with a cognitive impairment can look holistically different than depression without a diagnosis – it may be less severe and the symptoms may come and go. If you’re a caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s imperative to discuss any concerns with their primary care physician. 

How Can Caregivers Help Diagnosed Loved Ones Battling Depression? 

Getting your loved one living with depression the appropriate help is critical to improving their quality of life. In addition to drug treatments, there are a myriad of non-drug techniques and approaches you can take to potentially help. 

  • Involve your loved one in stage-specific support groups, especially for those in the early-stage who have been recently diagnosed. 
  • Help your loved one get into an exercise or workout routine, particularly in the morning.
  • Help them get engaged in a regular, predictable daily routine. Make sure you take advantage of your loved one’s best time of the day to perform more difficult tasks.
  • Keep an active list of places, activities, and people your loved one enjoys the most. You can schedule these activities more often.
  • Always celebrate your loved one’s small victories and successes.
  • Look for ways your loved one can contribute to life and work to recognize their contributions and feel a sense of purpose.
  • Acknowledge your loved one’s sadness and frustrations, but also express hope and support.
  • Nurture your loved one with inspirational activities and favorite foods

Can Depression Cause Dementia? 

In addition to those with dementia suffering from depression, researchers suggest depression is a risk factor for dementia, and those with more depression symptoms tend to suffer a fast decline in memory skills and thinking. In this study, depression accounted for approximately 4.4% of the difference in mental decline that couldn’t be connected to dementia related damage discovered in the brain. 

The study involved more than 1,700 seniors who averaged an age of 77 and reported no memory or thinking problems at the beginning of the study. In the end, the researchers discovered that high levels of depression before dementia diagnosis are related to a more drastic decline in memory skills and thinking skills later on. 

The British Journal of Psychiatry’s Late-Life Depression Research 

Another study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that depression is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and substantial vascular dementia. In summary, researchers discovered that older adults who suffered from depression were 65% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and more than two times likely to develop vascular dementia than those who are similarly aged and not depressed. 

Co-author of the paper and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Meryl Butters explains “We can’t say that late-life depression causes dementia, but we can say it likely contributes to it.” She continued to explain 36 of every 50 older adults who suffered late-life depression progress and develop vascular dementia, while 31 out of 50 seniors who have a previous history of depression may eventually have an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. 

Contact Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation for Support 

If your loved one is diagnosed with a form of dementia, the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation (LIAF) is available and wants to help. LIAF offers a range of stage-specific programs and solutions to help you and your family navigate your way forward. 

About the Author Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation

At the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation (LIAF) our mission is to improve the quality of life for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia, and their caregivers. We actively work to achieve this mission through research-based programming for all stages of Alzheimer’s, Caregiver Support Groups, in-home respite solutions, transportation options, and additional services.

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