Exploring the Link between Dementia & Depression in Seniors
Health care professionals who work with seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will tell you that depression is a common among those living with this debilitating disease. But interesting new research seems to suggest there might be more to it.
Researchers are exploring the idea that depression that worsens over time might be linked to a higher incidence of dementia later in life. In their study, participants whose symptoms of depression increased over time had a 22% higher risk for developing dementia. This risk was most significant the first 3 years after symptoms appeared.
Because scientists haven’t yet been able to determine if depression is a cause or effect of dementia, it is one more reason why it is important to take depression in seniors seriously. Adult children and family caregivers should take time learn the signs of elderly depression so they can encourage a senior to seek the treatment necessary to recover.
What is Senior Depression Really All About?
Let’s first talk about depression. Many people have the mistaken idea that depression is just a serious case of the blues. Some believe people living with depression can just “snap out of it.” Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as many believe.
Depression is a serious mood disorder. It can impact every aspect of a person’s life from how much they sleep to how well they perform at their job. For a physician to diagnose depression, the symptoms must be present for two weeks or longer.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Loss of interest in favorite hobbies or pastimes
- Quick to anger and/or easily irritated
- Fatigue or a lack of energy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Change in appetite
- Aches and pains
- Stomach problems
- Persistent feelings of sadness or worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate
Unfortunately, more serious cases of depression can even cause suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.
Treating Depression in the Elderly
Depression often requires physicians to try a few different types of treatment before they find one that works for older patients. Some of the more common methods used to treat depression include:
- Exercise and Activity: While a quick trip around the block might help lift your spirits temporarily, it takes a more committed exercise program to help treat depression. Experts from Harvard Medical School say that exercising 35 to 60 minutes, 5 days a week can have a significant impact on depression.
- Prescription Medication: Antidepressants are a common treatment option. While they are a fairly inexpensive group of medications, they aren’t ones that work immediately. For most people, it takes up to one month before symptoms begin to subside. Depending upon the person, the physician may try to slowly decrease the dosage after about a year. If the senior responds well, they may not need to continue the medication. Some may find this short-term solution helps them get back on their feet, while others may need to continue the medication indefinitely.
- Talk Therapy: For other seniors who are suffering from depression, psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) might be the answer. These types of therapies help patients get to the root of what is troubling them and find solutions for overcoming those issues.
- Playful Video Games: A newer study from researchers in Singapore seems to show that engaging in “exergames,” video games that have an exercise component to them, might be another treatment option for seniors with depression. The higher the level of “playfulness,” the greater the boost in mental health rewards. These games can also help older adults prevent a decline in skills, such as memory and reasoning.
Staying Engaged with Life
If you are struggling to find ways to help the senior in your life stay active and prevent depression, we have a few resources you might find helpful. From Community Activities for Seniors to ideas for family fun, visit the Griswold Home Care blog to learn more.