(MayoClinic.com) Early Alzheimer's disease and depression share many symptoms, so it can be difficult even for doctors to distinguish between the two disorders. And many people with Alzheimer's also are depressed.
One important difference between Alzheimer's and depression is in the effectiveness of treatment. While Alzheimer's drugs can only slow the progression of cognitive decline, medications to treat depression can improve a person's quality of life dramatically.
People who have both Alzheimer's and depression may find it easier to cope with the changes caused by Alzheimer's when they feel less depressed.
Some of the symptoms common to both Alzheimer's and depression include:
With so much overlap in symptoms, it can be hard to distinguish between the two disorders, especially since they so often occur together. A thorough physical exam and psychological evaluation can be helpful in determining a diagnosis. However, many people with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease lack both the insight and the vocabulary to express how they feel.Signposts for depression
To detect depression in people who have Alzheimer's disease, doctors must rely more heavily on nonverbal cues and caregiver reports than on self-reported symptoms. If a person with Alzheimer's displays one of the first two symptoms in this list, along with at least two of the others within a two-week period, he or she may be depressed.
People with Alzheimer's may experience depression differently from that of people without Alzheimer's. For example, individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease:
Scientists aren't sure of the exact relationship between Alzheimer's disease and depression. Some research has found that the biological changes caused by Alzheimer's may intensify a predisposition to depression. Other studies suggest that the presence of depression may increase your chances of developing Alzheimer's disease.
It's clear that depression has a strong effect on quality of life for people with Alzheimer's disease. Depression can lead to:
Several options are available to treat people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and depression:
Making the right diagnosis and getting appropriate treatment can help make life easier and more enjoyable for both the person with Alzheimer's and his or her caregivers.
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