How to Recognize Depression in Alzheimer’s-Affected Seniors

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By John Wick

Depression looms like a specter on plenty of people worldwide. The elderly are no exception, even more so if they’re afflicted with Alzheimer’s. In fact, close to 50% of Alzheimer’s sufferers also suffer from some form of depression. 

This alone requires assisted living communities and memory care communities to be more vigilant in their efforts to mitigate its effects among their residents. Like any condition, depression manifests itself differently in every individual. Some may share similar signs, while others. 

Let’s look at how seniors with Alzheimer’s typically manifest symptoms of depression and what you should do as a renderer of community senior living services or a caretaker to be more proactive in identifying elderly residents who are more prone to it. 

Why It’s Important to Identify Depression in Alzheimer’s Seniors

You’re probably wondering, “Is there any difference between geriatric depression and depression among the elderly who also happen to have Alzheimer’s?” Well, on the whole, they definitely share the same symptoms, but we wouldn’t have this discussion if that’s mainly the case.

It gets tricky because Alzheimer’s and depression symptoms overlap. 

  • Did the senior’s change in behavior arise due to Alzheimer’s or depression?
  • Is the unwillingness to take part in day-to-day activities or events an impact of Alzheimer’s or simply because of acute depression?
  • Did depression arise as a result of the dementia diagnosis? 
  • In most cases, depression actually serves as one of the first telling signs of brain dysfunction that could later become Alzheimer’s. 
  • People with a history of depression are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life. 

These are but some questions that caretakers have to face and provide concrete, detailed answers to in order to know the best course of action and treatment to take. That being said, are there depression symptoms that are intimately tied to older people with dementia and Alzheimer’s?

To get the best answer to this, we need to dive deep into the actual cases that figure in assisted living for seniors and your standard long-term memory care. The answers are interesting, 

How Depression Typically Manifests in Alzheimer’s-Afflicted Seniors

As people age, the amount of dopamine in their brains decreases. This decrease in dopamine can lead to symptoms such as depression, agitation, and confusion. This is why it is so important for seniors with Alzheimer’s to have excellent Alzheimer’s care facilities. These facilities need to be able to provide a warm and caring environment, as well as the right medication and treatment. The right care will help keep the elderly person with Alzheimer’s as comfortable and happy as possible until they pass away.

  • Notable and unusual social withdrawal and failure to derive satisfaction from social activities
  • Pronounced feelings of hopelessness, despair, and sadness
  • Reduced energy
  • Irregular sleep patterns and disruptions
  • Irregular diet patterns
  • Loss of concentration and lethargy
  • Being more agitated than usual
  • Heightened inclination to commit suicide
  • Greatly reduced self-esteem
  • Irrational feelings of guilt

Again, most of these symptoms and signs are taken from first-hand accounts of caretakers working with Alzheimer’s seniors in senior care communities. Anyone with Alzheimer’s manifesting one or more of these symptoms should be suspected of having depression as well. This is especially true if the signs last beyond two weeks. 

A Look at the Unique Pattern and Occurrence of Depression Among Alzheimer’s Seniors

Identifying the common symptoms is only half the battle. Alzheimer’s caretakers should also know how depression usually occurs in seniors with the disease. This includes:

  1. The pattern of depression among people with the said mental condition tends to undulate between depressive episodes that come back more frequently than normal or brief episodes that happen without a noticeable continuation.
  2. Interestingly, most people with Alzheimer’s actually have less debilitating cases of depression than what can be considered as “normal” among adults.
  3. According to statistics, they’re also less prone to consider suicidal thoughts and, much less, act on them. 

In light of these facts, Alzheimer’s-related depression already stands out from other common forms of depression. They should be constantly taken into account, especially when considering specific cases. Considering the following aspects will not harm your chances of coming up with a solid diagnosis.

What Steps Should Caretakers and Doctors Perform to Ensure a Good Diagnosis?

Although we already mentioned that the symptoms we mentioned above can serve as reliable signs of depression among Alzheimer’s seniors, it would be inappropriate to assume that the symptoms they display mean they are already depressed. In order to make a definitive diagnosis of depression, more medical and social evaluations must be conducted. 

Here are but some of the steps that caretakers and doctors do before making a final diagnosis:

  • Conduct an interview with the seniors friends and loved ones. People who have an intimate knowledge of the resident can provide valuable information about his or her personality and can confirm their medical history, too.
  • Review the senior’s entire medical history. This way, the doctors will know whether the senior has already experienced depressive episodes in the past or has simply experienced depression at one point in life.
  • Conduct both mental and physical tests. The Zung Scale, the only reliable depression test at present, will undoubtedly be used. While we did say that it’s reliable, its accuracy tends to hover slightly below 80%. 

As for the physical test, a blood test may be ordered in order to establish whether the symptoms of depression are actually being caused by another physical condition. 


For all the difficulty in identifying depression among Alzheimer’s seniors, it’s a step that really can’t be skipped because the former can wreak havoc on any person’s life. What more if they’re also suffering from an equally terrible mental condition? There is a double whammy that must be addressed immediately, especially when pinpointing the causes so that each one can be effectively treated and the resident’s quality of life ensured.