We all experience changes in our mood from time to time. Many people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, however, experience specific mood changes. They may become depressed, withdrawn, and lose interest in activities they used to enjoy. Sometimes, they may lose the ability to control their emotions.

It is important to remember that even in the later stages of the disease, the person with Alzheimer’s disease is still able to experience a variety of emotions such as joy, love, fear, and sadness. Monitor her mood to ensure she is able to enjoy each day as fully as possible.

What is depression?

Depression is a condition in which people feel sad, hopeless or irritable most of the time. People with depression also experience anxiety and feelings of isolation. The number of people with depression rises over the age of 65.

Up to 40 to 50 per cent of people with dementia experience depression at some point. Depression can make the symptoms of dementias worse. For example, depression can cause increased forgetfulness, confusion, and anxiety.

It is important to diagnose depression in people with dementia because depression may respond to treatment.

The symptoms of depression can be similar to symptoms of dementia. Therefore, it is often difficult to identify depression in people with dementia. There are some common signs of depression to be aware of:

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Lack of energy
  • Problems sleeping
  • Increased confusion
  • Loss of appetite and weight

If you are concerned about depression, speak to the person's doctor.

Possible causes of depression

  • In the early stages of dementia, the person may experience depression after hearing his diagnosis.
  • Social isolation may also cause depression in some people with dementia.
  • Fatigue is associated with depressive symptoms.
  • Depression can be a side effect of certain medications. Ask the person's doctor to review the drugs he is currently taking.

Coping with depression

  • Encourage pleasant activities that she can still enjoy, such as short walks or outings.
  • Set realistic expectations. If you expect too much from her, she may feel frustrated and discouraged.
  • Establish a consistent daily routine. This will help reassure her as well as reduce confusion.
  • Counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and group therapy may be helpful.
  • Antidepressant medications may help. Talk to the person's doctor about the options.
If you are worried about any of these symptoms, talk to your family doctor.

Additional resources

Depression in Older Adults: a guide for seniors and their families by the Canadian Coalition for Seniors' Mental Health includes resources on depression and prevention of suicide in older adults.

Last Updated: 11/08/2017