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Depression and Anxiety in Dementia

This week is Self-Care Week – a UK-wide initiative which focuses on support for self-care in all parts of the community. The concept of self-care relates to both mental and physical wellbeing and is something which people who are living with dementia can often find difficult to keep on top of.

In this blog, we look at two mental health conditions - depression and anxiety - and we explore the ways in which they can present themselves, especially for people who have a dementia diagnosis.

Anxiety and Dementia

Anxiety is a symptom of a range of mental health disorders which can appear in the early stages of dementia. General symptoms of anxiety include the feeling of fear, unease or being out of control. It can also come with physical symptoms, such as sweating, muscle tension, palpitations, high blood pressure, nausea and headaches.

For people living with dementia, they may also experience the following symptoms of anxiety:

  • Behavioural changes

  • Restless behaviours like pacing, doing the same thing over and over or not staying still

  • Irritability and agitation

  • Following a carer or partner around and not wanting to be alone

  • The need for constant reassurance

Anxiety can also have varying levels of severity. If someone is experiencing mild anxiety, for example, it may be able to be alleviated with reassurance, ensuring all needs are met, or healthy changes to the diet such as the reduction of caffeine and alcohol. If a specific fear can be identified, for example the fear of falling, then home adaptations can be made to help improve the environment.

When someone living with dementia experiences a moderate level of anxiety then there is a range of therapies which might help. For example:

  • Talking therapies

  • Behavioural therapies (eg CBT)

  • Music therapy

  • Complementary or alternative therapies

For people who are more seriously affected by anxiety then anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed by the GP or a psychotherapist, dependant on what other medications the person already takes. Sometimes anti-psychotics such as Risperidone, Haloperidol or Olanzapine can be prescribed which act as a mild sedative and can calm anxiety and agitation, however these are not recommended for certain types of dementia or for long-term use.

Anxiety is more common in Vascular Dementia or Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), rather than in Alzheimer’s. Anxiety can worsen some dementia symptoms, for example; attention, planning capabilities, organisational skills and decision making. The greatest trigger for this is unexpected changes to environment or routines. Additionally, anxiety can be aggravated by factors such as a lack of stimulation and physical activity, isolation and loneliness.

Depression and Dementia

Depression is diagnosed when feelings of being in a low mood, desolate or helpless persist for a long time. Like anxiety, depression can affect sleep patterns, appetite, behaviour and can cause poor concentration and a loss of interest in activities which normally would have been enjoyed. In addition to a person becoming withdrawn, depression can lead to frequent bouts of tearfulness and even suicidal thoughts or episodes of self-harm.

Identifying anxiety and depression in a person is important because it can allow them to get the help and support that they need when they may not have realised that there was a problem themself.

What To Do If You Are Worried That A Loved is depressed.

If you believe that someone may have depression, then it is vital that you encourage them to consult a GP. Medication can be prescribed to help alleviate some of the effects of depression.

In addition, you can help them to practice self-care by taking regular gentle exercise, getting outside as much as possible, staying hydrated, eating well trying complementary therapies, such as massage and engaging in conversations and social interaction with others.

If you need help or advice on how to care for someone living with dementia who is experiencing the effects of dementia or anxiety, then speak to a member of our Wayfinding team today for support.


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