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How Dementia Affects Mental Health

Some decline in cognitive functioning is normal with age, but if you or a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, the changes can be more severe. Dementia’s symptoms vary from person to person, but the condition generally causes memory loss, confusion, difficulty with language, and changes in personality. Some people see these symptoms develop quickly, and others see a slower progression.
Mental health issues are common in all stages of dementia. Cognitive decline affects your ability to understand and interact with the world, which can be very emotionally draining. Treatments are available to help manage the mental and emotional symptoms, though. If you or a loved one has dementia, you should understand the link between dementia and mental health so that you can find the support you need.

Dementia and Depression

Depression is one of the most common psychological effects of dementia. In the early stages of dementia, seniors may develop depression as a response to their memory issues. They worry about their future, and they’re grieving their cognitive health. This can be an especially painful stage as the individual is likely self-aware that their mind is changing, but they feel powerless to stop it.
Another major contributor to depression in people with dementia is social isolation. Not everyone with the illness will become isolated, but loneliness is a common concern. When you have a hard time connecting with other people in meaningful ways, you may start to feel sad, apathetic, or hopeless.
The following are some of the other causes of depression in seniors with dementia:

  • Physical or mental fatigue
  • Medication side effects
  • Feeling overwhelmed by environmental factors, such as loud sounds
  • Not getting enough sleep

Many symptoms of depression are also symptoms of dementia, so recognizing and diagnosing the condition can be challenging. For example, social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, and changes in mood are all signs of both conditions. If you have any concerns that a loved one may be struggling with depression, you should speak to a professional for guidance.

Dementia and Anxiety

Anxiety is extremely common among people with dementia. Even if you or your loved one doesn’t meet the criteria to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, anxious thoughts and behaviors can still be present.
Like with depression, anxiety often develops in the early stages of dementia due to worries about the future. Being aware of your diagnosis can be frightening because it causes so much uncertainty. Memory issues, confusion, and scattered thoughts can all lead to feelings of anxiety as well.
The following are signs and symptoms of anxiety to look out for in people with dementia:

  • Physical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, or racing heartbeat
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Frequently asking for reassurance from others
  • Dramatic changes in behavior

Anxiety is a challenging experience, but there are many ways that loved ones and caregivers can help. Although anxiety happens in your mind, making changes to your physical environment so that it feels safer and more comfortable can greatly reduce the symptoms. Offering plenty of support and reassurance to the person struggling can help as well.

Dementia and Hallucinations

Not all seniors with dementia have hallucinations or delusions, but these conditions can be very overwhelming for the individual and their family. Hallucinations happen when you see, hear, or feel things that aren’t there, and delusions are false beliefs about yourself or your environment.
Sometimes, older adults find peace and comfort in certain hallucinations or delusions. However, hallucinations and delusions are often a source of distress. They can be confusing and frightening, and the person may struggle to reach out for support.
There are some medical treatments that can help with hallucinations and delusions, so you should always consult with a doctor if you have concerns. Family and friends of a person with dementia can also learn strategies for safely and compassionately interacting with someone who’s hallucinating.

Mental Health Treatment for Seniors With Dementia

Mental and emotional health issues affect most seniors with dementia, but that doesn’t mean these conditions aren’t treatable. You may not be able to completely overcome the symptoms, but you can reduce their severity and improve your quality of life.
Dementia can affect almost all aspects of your health and functioning, so treatment should always be a collaboration between different members of the healthcare team. For instance, a physician needs to know what psychological treatment a patient is receiving, and their psychologist should be aware of the patient’s physical health status. Mental health treatment in older adults often involves a combination of medication and therapy, so there will likely be several professionals addressing the issue.
Medication can be very helpful for managing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. The side effects can be challenging for people with dementia, though. It can take time to find the combination of treatments that reduce symptoms without causing too many side effects, so patience is key at this step in the process.
Counseling can play a vital role in treatment for older adults, too. Some therapists specialize in counseling for seniors, so they understand how to connect with people with dementia even when the individual has a hard time keeping up with a conversation. Therapy provides an opportunity for seniors to express how they feel, which they may struggle to do around family and friends.

How Caregivers Can Help

If a loved one is facing dementia and mental or emotional health problems, you may feel lost or uncertain about how to help. You want to support them in whatever way you can, but this isn’t always easy. No matter your loved one’s symptoms, the best thing you can do to help is listen and empathize with them.
You don’t have to offer a solution to every anxious or depressive thought that you hear from your family member. Sometimes, simply feeling heard and understood can help an aging adult feel better. Let your loved one know that you hear them and that you care about them. Even if their worries seem illogical or their statements don’t make sense, try to avoid dismissing them.
Helping your loved one find or maintain their sense of identity and purpose is important, too. Cognitive decline can cause a senior to lose their sense of self, and it may prevent them from participating in the activities they used to enjoy. Look for adaptive ways for your loved one to engage with their hobbies or connect with their community. This can be a great way to add more joy and meaning to your family member’s life.
Dementia can affect mental and emotional health in a number of ways, but it is possible for seniors to reduce their symptoms and find ways to cope with the cognitive changes. Blue Moon Senior Counseling offers therapy for older adults with dementia who are struggling with depression, anxiety, or other concerns. You can reach out to us today to learn more.

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