Depression in Alzheimer Patients: Know the Early Warning Signs

Merely Me Health Guide
  • If you have a loved one who has Alzheimer’s you will undoubtedly worry about the signs and symptoms of their condition. You may wonder if what you are seeing is a symptom of Alzheimer’s or something else. Could symptoms such as poor concentration, difficulty sleeping, and social withdrawal be signs of Alzheimer’s or could there be another cause? The issue with such symptoms is that they can overlap with signs of depression. Depression  among Alzheimer’s patients can be difficult to detect because the symptoms between these two conditions can be very similar. Not only that, depression can also be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease at certain stages. It is much akin to trying to find the beginning of a ball of twisted up yarn. Where do you begin to search for answers? In this post we are going to try to answer some of these questions about the association between Alzheimer’s disease and depression. In addition, we are going to give you a check list of possible early warning signs that your loved one with Alzheimer’s may also be suffering from depression.

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    How prevalent is depression among people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease?


    According to the Alzheimer’s Association as many as 40% of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease also suffer from significant depression. In addition, the Alzheimer’s Disease Research program has identified depression as a possible symptom among patients with stage two Alzheimer’s. At this stage the Alzheimer patient is more aware of the loss and control associated with their disease. As a result they may become irritable, restless, withdrawn, and depressed.


    Why is it important to recognize the early signs of depression in your loved one with Alzheimer’s?


    One of the primary reasons to look out for signs of depression in your family member or loved one having Alzheimer’s is that depression is relatively common among those who have this disease but it is treatable. If you treat the depression early on, it will not have the chance to become entrenched and become a chronic problem. Treating your loved one’s depression will also give them a better chance to cope with their Alzheimer’s symptoms. The Mayo Clinic  reports that untreated depression among Alzheimer’s patients can lead to a more rapid decline in cognitive functioning, greater overall disability in taking care of themselves, and an earlier placement in a nursing home. It is clear that depression can have a detrimental effect upon your loved one’s quality of life. This is why it is so important to recognize the signs of depression in your family member or loved one, and get them treated promptly.


    Are there differences between the symptoms of depression among Alzheimer’s patients and those who do not have this disease?


    The literature states several differences in depression in Alzheimer’s patients vs. those who do not have Alzheimer’s disease including:


    • Depression in Alzheimer’s may not be as severe, last as long, or recur as often as someone without this disease.


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    • You may have to rely more on behavioral cues to detect depression in the Alzheimer’s patient. They may be less likely to discuss their feelings of depression.


    • The Alzheimer patient with depression may talk less about suicidal thoughts and are reported to attempt suicide less often than patients without dementia.


    • Depressive symptoms in Alzheimer’s may come and go and not present a consistent pattern.


    What are the early warning signs of depression for someone who also has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease?  (Please remember that everyone is a unique individual and depression symptoms can vary greatly between people. Always refer to your loved one’s physician to answer your questions about any unusual symptoms or concerns.)

    The Alzheimer’s Association of the U.S. and the Alzheimer’s Society of the UK  list the following as possible signs of depression in Alzheimer patients:


    • Depressed mood (sad, hopeless, discouraged, and tearful)

    • A significant decrease in pleasure associated with interacting with others or partaking in usual activities.


    If your family member or loved one has shown these symptoms of depression for two weeks or more in addition to any of these additional warning signs please discuss treatment options with a doctor.


    • Agitation and irritability


    • Lethargy or apathy


    • Changes in eating habits


    • Social isolation or withdrawal


    • Changes in sleeping habits


    • Great fatigue and loss of energy


    • Feeling hopeless, worthless, or excessive guilt.


    • Expressing thoughts of suicide or death or making suicidal plans.


    If you are a patient who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, have you experienced any symptoms of depression? If you are a caregiver, have you noticed any signs of depression or other mood changes in your loved one who has Alzheimer’s. How are you all coping? Tell your story. We are eager to hear from you.


    For more information about depression please visit Health Central’s MyDepressionConnection for resources and support in managing and treating depression.


    In addition we have many posts and articles on the topic of depression and Alzheimer’s Disease that you may wish to read including:


    Alzheimer’s and Depression Among Caregivers: An Interview with Dr. Deborah Serani

    Is it Dementia or Depression?

    Depression in the Elderly

    Will a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Bring On Depression? 


    Depression May Hasten Alzheimer’s

    Avoiding Seasonal Depression in Alzheimer’s Patients

    Health Central’s MyDepressionConnection

Published On: November 07, 2011