Dealing with Alzheimer’s and Depression: Practical Advice for Caregivers


People with Alzheimer’s can improve with treatment just as any other person who develops depression. Subsequent treatment of the depression can improve the patient’s sense of well-being, quality of life, and ability to function, even in the presence of ongoing decline in memory and thinking.

After a definitive diagnosis of depression, the first step is a non-medication intervention. If the depression is mild, many things can be done in the caregiver-patient relationship. Some things as simple as scheduling a predictable daily routine that takes advantage of the patient’s best time of day to undertake a difficult task-such as bathing-is an easy adjustment that can yield huge dividends.

The caregiver needs to build some activities into the life of the patient that can be done together, are pleasant for both, and gets the patient out of the house on a regular basis. These may include shopping, walking in the mall, visiting regularly with friends, or going to the park for a walk. Focus on activities the person has enjoyed throughout his or her life. Enrolling him or her in adult day care, or engaging in some other type of daily activity program are often ways to help a patient feel better.

The caregiver can also acknowledge the person’s frustration or sadness. Expressing hope that they will feel better soon is sometimes enough to quell the person’s despair or fear. Reassuring the person that he/she will not be abandoned, that someone will always be there for them, is also something that can help relieve depressive feelings in the Alzheimer’s patient. Sticking to a semi-flexible schedule can also make things easier for the caregiver.

If the depression is more severe, an antidepressant medication should be combined with the above approaches immediately.

Caregivers should also take a regular respite from their duties. A caregiver who becomes tired and frustrated will be less able to help the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Another good option is to look for caregiver support groups. Other people who are already dealing with the same problems may be able to offer suggestions on how you can better cope and make your caregiving duties a little bit easier.