Alzheimer’s Disease & Depression – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Procedure, Tests, Treatment, Tips

Depression is linked to various medical conditions especially those related to brain disorders.

Alzheimer is one such brain disease that causes depression in affected patients.

Alzheimer is a type of dementia characterised by difficulty in remembering, communicating and learning.  It occurs due to damage of the brain cells inside patient’s brain.

How depression originates in Alzheimer’s patients?

As patients suffering from Alzheimer find it difficult to memorise or communicate, they are not able to take proper care of themselves. It results in behavioural changes and mood disorders in these patients.

Patients who have Alzheimer become more depressed on realizing that their symptoms are getting worse.

Depression is not only a common occurrence in Alzheimer’s patients, but it also enhances the severity of the Alzheimer symptoms.

Symptoms of Depression in Alzheimer’s patients

Have you seen a patient suffering from Alzheimer disease? Try to look out for the following signs and symptoms to check if he/she is depressed.

  • Reluctant to act, move or perform any task (Apathy)
  • Showing lack of self esteem, sadness or worthlessness
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleep disturbances including too less or too much sleep
  • Sudden mood fluctuations
  • State of confusion
  • Getting unusually emotional (started crying or getting angry)
  • Remaining in isolation
  • Do not want to take any personal care
  • Refusal to take medications
  • Aimless wandering
  • Lack of pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable

It is difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and depression separately. You should consult with your psychiatrist to confirm if the patient suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is also depressed.

Diagnosis of Depression in Alzheimer patients

The diagnosis of depression in Alzheimer patients is performed by experienced psychiatrist. He/she

may ask various questions to Alzheimer patients about their signs and symptoms of depression.

Psychiatrist may perform the thorough medical examination of the patient. Patient many be asked to conduct blood tests for ruling out any other medical cause of depression.

Psychiatrists may also ask the family members of patient if they have observed any changed behaviours in the patient.

Common Diagnostic Procedures

•             Full patient medical history

•             Physical Assessment

•             Thorough evaluation of symptoms

•             Standardized questionnaires like Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, and the Beck Depression Inventory

Laboratory tests for ruling out other medical causes

•             Blood tests for TSH and thyroxin levels for excluding hypothyroidism

•             Basic electrolytes and serum calcium for ruling out metabolic disturbances

•             Full blood count including ESR for ruling out a systemic infection

•             Adverse affective reactions for alcohol misuse

Treatment of Depression in Alzheimer’s patients

Psychiatrist usually prescribes antidepressant medicines for improving the symptoms of depression in Alzheimer patients.

Antidepressant medicines are effective in improving the depression symptoms however they do have some side effects also. Psychiatrist usually prescribes those medications that provide maximum benefits at minimum risks.

The dosages of these medications are also adjusted in Alzheimer’s patients and their effects are carefully monitored.

The doctors usually employ the combination of various therapies to obtain the optimal results.

  • Medications like antidepressants and antipsychotic medication
  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy/ Psychotherapy
  • Physical exercise
  • Support from families/friends

Tips for Depression in Alzheimer’s patients

  • Maintain a strict daily routine of activities
  • Take all your medications on time and complete their dosage
  • Stay away from loud noises
  • Avoid stress and various situations that trigger stress
  • Socialise with people who have positive attitude
  • Make a support group of friends and family members
  • Engage in enjoyable activities like going to park, painting, gardening, etc
  • Ask for help if required
  • Take time out to spend with your relatives and friends