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Anxiety and Depression with Dementia

It is not uncommon for people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and related dementias to also develop depression and anxiety. In home caregivers are a key part of first recognizing the symptoms and then finding ways to relieve those conditions.

Ruth Drew, Director of Client and Information Services at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, said that other medical causes must first be ruled out. “A person with a urinary tract infection may exhibit similar symptoms,” she explained. The symptoms of depression can vary widely and include a change in appetite (eating a lot more or a lot less); feeling sad, hopeless, discouraged, tearful; not engaging in social activities that they used to enjoy; sleeping a lot more or a lot less. Severe pain could also be causing anxiety or depression, she noted, but a person with dementia no longer has coping mechanisms to sort out what might make them feel better.

Once it is determined that the individual is truly experiencing anxiety or depression, Ms. Drew said, the key to helping them is in how well the in home caregivers knows the person.

“I can’t underestimate the importance of the human connection,” she said. “People can feel very isolated.” Ms. Drew suggests that in home caregivers reintroduce activities that were pleasurable before the dementia. “A caregiver can make a huge difference in someone’s life just by knowing these few tips.”

Pets can be really meaningful, if they liked pets before,” she said.

Music can totally turn a mood around,” she said.

If the person went to church or has a strong faith, then reading the Scriptures can be a pleasant activity to share with them.

“If this person was always outdoors and they are cooped up now, it’s important to get them outside,” Ms. Drew said. “And if it’s too freezing cold to go outside, make sure they are by a window.”

Let the individual explore painting, pottery or some other artistic media. “The important thing is not did they execute an activity flawlessly, but did they enjoy the process?” Ms. Drew said.