In addition to memory loss and changes in behavior, depression is a common experience for people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. One 2016 study by Lara et al. suggested that as many as half of those diagnosed with symptoms of cognitive decline will experience at least one depressive episode during their treatment.

But when it comes to depression and dementia, providing the right care at the right time isn’t always easy. The symptoms of the two conditions are strikingly similar. And some studies suggest that people who suffer from depression may be at an increased risk of experiencing cognitive decline later in life.

Here’s what we know — and don’t know — about the link between depression and dementia.

Dementia and Depression: Understanding the Similarities

Depression is a serious medical condition that affects more than 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Also called major depressive disorder, people with depression may experience a range of mental health symptoms, including intense sadness, loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities, and changes in eating and sleeping patterns.

Dementia, on the other hand, is a medical term used to describe a series of cognitive symptoms that affect one’s daily life. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these symptoms may include memory problems and changes in personality and critical thinking skills.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. There are more than 540,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in Florida alone.

The Connection Between Depression and Dementia

In addition to memory and behavioral changes, people living with dementia may also experience the classic symptoms of depression, including unexplainable sadness, fatigue and sleeping issues.

There are also similarities at the biological level, according to Psychology Today. In blood tests, people with dementia and depression both tested high for the stress hormone cortisol.

There’s such an intense overlap between the two conditions, researchers at the University of Wyoming say it can be difficult to tell the two apart, even in a clinical setting.

Does Depression Cause Dementia?

There is an increased interest in finding out whether depression is not just a symptom of dementia, but also a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Several recent studies have shown that a history of depression may increase one’s chances of experiencing cognitive decline later in life.

  • In 2015, researchers in India found that people who suffer from depression experienced symptoms of cognitive decline 2.5 years earlier than those who did not.
  • Another study, by Barnes et al., suggested that people who experience depression later in life were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. While people who experienced depression in mid and late life had more than a three-fold increased risk of developing vascular dementia, cognitive decline caused by cerebrovascular disease.
  • Finally, an article in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease concluded that late-life depression is a “strong risk factor” for experiencing symptoms of cognitive impairment.

The connection between dementia and depression is so strong, The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry is calling for further research into whether treating symptoms of apathy and depression early in life will help reduce one’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Another study, published in the Handbook on the Neuropsychology of Aging and Dementia, suggested that depression may be an early symptom of dementia.

Using What We Know to Help People Living With Dementia

As the medical community continues to determine the exact link between depression and dementia, memory care communities are developing programs to help their residents enjoy the highest quality of life possible. That means training their caregivers to recognize the symptoms of depression, delivering the proper care to residents, and creating activities and routines that help residents feel engaged and connected.

To learn more about Sonata Senior Living’s person-directed approach to memory care, call a community near you today to schedule a visit →

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