Alzheimer’s Disease or Depression?

Several symptoms are shared by depression and the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Therefore, knowing what disease a person is really suffering from can be quite difficult, even for doctors. Also, a lot of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers show also the signs and symptoms of depression.

It’s important for sufferers of AD who are depressed to get treatment for their depression, just as it is equally essential for people suffering from depression alone to get treatment for their problem.

Individuals with both depression and Alzheimer’s are much more able to cope with the changes associated with Alzheimer’s when their depression is reduced or relieved.

Shared Symptoms

The shared symptoms of depression and Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Withdrawal from society

  • Sleeping irregularities (too little or too much sleep)

  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that used to be fun and enjoyable

  • Memory issues

Because of so many overlapping symptoms, these two conditions can be almost impossible to distinguish from each other more so if they develop together. Both a comprehensive psychological assessment and physical evaluation can lead to a proper and correct diagnosis.

But, for a lot of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, it may be impossible to show exactly how they feel.

Tell-tale Signs of Depression

To be able to diagnose depression in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, physicians need to rely heavily on caregiver reports and nonverbal signals than on manifested symptoms. The following is a list of the signs of depression. If within a two-week period, an Alzheimer’s patient displays one of the first two symptoms in the list, and also at minimum of two of the others, then that patient likely is suffering from depression.

  • Lessened response or pleasure in usual activities or to social contacts

  • Substantially depressed mood (tearful, hopeless, discouraged, sad)

  • Too little or too much eating

  • Withdrawal from society or isolation

  • Irritability

  • Lethargy or agitation

  • Inappropriate guilt, feeling of insignificance, worthlessness, or hopelessness

  • Loss of energy or fatigue

  • Occasional ideations of suicide ideations and thoughts of death

A Different Type of Depression Can Also Be Experienced By Alzheimer’s Disease Patients

Alzheimer’s disease sufferers may also feel a type of depression different from the ones suffered by people without Alzheimer’s. There are patients with Alzheimer’s disease who:

  • Experience symptoms and signs of depression that are not so severe

  • Are not or are less likely to attempt, think, or talk about suicide

  • May undergo moments of depression that recur less frequently or don’t last as long

The exact relationship between depression and Alzheimer’s disease is still a medical science mystery although research has shown that predisposition to depression can increase due to biological changes associated with Alzheimer’s.

Conversely, depression can add to the likelihood of a person developing Alzheimer’s disease.

We know that depression can significantly impact the quality of life of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Depression may result in:

  • A stronger reliance on caregivers

  • A greater disability involving  daily living skills

  • Aggravation in cognitive decline


Various healing approaches are available for treating people diagnosed with depression and Alzheimer’s disease. They include:

  1. Physical exercise: Performing physical exercise on a regular basis may help may reduce the symptoms of depression.

  2. Antidepressants: They include SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The drugs Zoloft (sertraline) and citalopram (Celexa), for example, are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants for people diagnosed with both Alzheimer’s and depression.  The one thing to remember when using these drugs is that they may not be as good in addressing depression with Alzheimer’s as they are at treating depression alone. Other drugs that can be used include bupropion (Wellbutrin, Aplenzin, etc.) or venlafaxine (Effexor XR).

  3. Reducing isolation: Allowing the patient to go to activities where there are other people may reduce the symptoms of depression. Looking for ways that can help your loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease to participate in family activities and appreciating their contribution may yield positive results.

  4. Counseling and support groups: People who are on the early stages of AD and have depression can help overcome depression by going to counseling therapy or by joining a support group. These two approaches can be considered before the sufferer’s ability to communicate becomes severely impaired.

Getting the right treatment for AD sufferers diagnosed with depression can significantly ease the life for both the patient and his/her caregiver.