Dementia is a debilitating disease affecting mostly seniors, and unfortunately it’s one of several medical conditions also associated with increased risk of depression. Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common and well-known form of dementia, has up to 25% of diagnosed patients also suffering from depression. Depression is also more frequently diagnosed in patients with mild to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s. And higher rates of major depression have been linked to the forms of dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease and strokes.
There is current research focused on understanding what it is that makes dementia patients particularly susceptible to depression. It is hypothesized that depression occurs as a psychological reaction to the diagnosis of dementia and the adjustment to new limitations and the loss of function and competence. However, there has not been a link established between rates of depression between patients who are aware of and have insight into their diagnosis, and those who do not.
Another hypothesis is that the changes in the brain that occur as a result of dementia play a role in the development of depression. The high incidence of depression after strokes has led researchers to explore how reduced blood flow to the brain may cause cellular damage that can be linked to depression.
Distinguishing depression symptoms in dementia patients can be difficult, even for clinicians skilled in that area. Any diagnosis of depression should take other possible causes into account, and make sure the symptoms they suspect to be from depression aren’t simply actually being caused by the dementia.