Caregiving for a person with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia is often physically and emotionally stressful. In your effort to provide the best care possible, you might neglect your own well-being. You also may be coping with feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness or guilt. All of these factors can increase the risk of caregiver depression.
Learn how to recognize symptoms of depression, use coping strategies and get appropriate treatment when necessary.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Caregiving might cause you to feel sad, empty or hopeless. It can also cause you to lose interest in things that would normally be enjoyable. If these feelings are persistent or disrupt your ability to function, you may be experiencing depression.
Depression, also called major depressive disorder, is diagnosed when signs and symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day for an extended period. These might include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities
- Sleep disturbances
- Tiredness and a lack of energy
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Anxiety, agitation, irritability or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions or remembering things
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Guilt or self-blame about things that aren't your fault
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
- Unexplained physical problems, such as stomachaches or headaches
What can caregivers experiencing depression do?
Dementia caregivers may consider their signs and symptoms a normal part of providing care, or they may avoid treatment out of shame or fear. Depression, however, is a condition like any other illness that shouldn't be ignored. Untreated depression can affect both your physical health and your ability to provide care.
If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of depression, seek help. Talk to your doctor or make an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional. With an accurate diagnosis, you can receive treatment, such as counseling or medications.
What can you do to lower the risk of depression?
Studies suggest that certain factors may be associated with a lower risk of depression among dementia caregivers. These include:
- Social support. A lack of social support is associated with an increased risk of caregiver depression. Enlist the support of family and friends, participate in a caregiver support group, or use respite services or adult care services that give you time away from caregiving.
- Effective coping strategies. Coping strategies that focus on understanding particular caregiving problems and taking steps to correct them may lessen the risk of depression. Educational materials about effective caregiving and problem-solving strategies may be available from your doctor, senior community centers, agencies such as the Alzheimer's Association or the Family Caregiver Alliance, and online and community support groups.
Other coping strategies that may help you manage the impact of caregiving on your emotional, physical and mental well-being include:
- Self-care. Physical exercise can help manage stress and has been shown to be an effective intervention to treat depression. Eat a healthy diet, and try to keep a regular sleep schedule.
- Mind-body techniques. Meditation, yoga and creative expression may help you reduce stress, relax and manage emotions.
- Time for yourself. Participate in community, cultural, religious or social events that you find relaxing, enjoyable or enriching.
- Time for other relationships. Find time with friends and family.
- Start a journal. Journaling can serve as an outlet to explore and make sense of the emotions you experience as a caregiver.