It is estimated that approximately 40 percent of people with Alzheimer’s also experience some form of depression. This has led many researchers to attempt to determine if these two conditions have any direct connections. Lancaster Alzheimer’s care experts discuss the ways depression and Alzheimer’s disease may be linked.
The Similarities and Differences Between the Two Conditions
Many people with Alzheimer’s also experience depression, especially during the initial stages of the disease while they are still lucid. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to identify depression in seniors with Alzheimer’s because the two conditions share symptoms like apathy, social withdrawal, and a lack of concentration. A senior with Alzheimer’s may also be depressed if he or she feels hopelessness or despair following the diagnosis.
Depression May Increase the Risk of Alzheimer’s
Although the high incidence of depression in seniors with Alzheimer’s has often been attributed to the shock of being diagnosed with the disease, recent research has shown depression puts people at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s later in life. A University of Massachusetts Medical School study found people with depression were 50 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those who were not depressed. A study of people over 55 in Britain had similar results, finding men and women with high levels of anxiety and depression were more likely to die because of Alzheimer’s.
How Cortisol Factors into the Equation
Consistently high levels of stress can change the structure of the brain’s memory center, also known as the hippocampus. Depression and stress cause the body to release high levels of the hormone cortisol, which may damage the functioning of cells in the hippocampus. This theory is supported by a study on elderly priests and nuns that found high levels of stress and depression were associated with a 75 percent reduction in the amount of cells in the hippocampus that connected with each other.
Blood Circulation May Play a Role
Depression also reduces blood flow in the body. A strong blood supply is essential for the healthy functioning of the brain. Studies have found inhibited blood flow caused by heart disease can harm the hippocampus and increase risk for Alzheimer’s.
Keeping seniors mentally and socially stimulated can help prevent depression and stave off the effects of cognitive decline. If your loved one has been diagnosed with one or both of these conditions, a professional caregiver may be just what he or she needs. At Home Care Assistance, all of our caregivers are trained to use the Cognitive Therapeutics Method, an activities based program designed to slow cognitive decline, delay the onset of dementia, and engage with others in an enjoyable way. For more information on elder care Lancaster seniors can rely on, call one of our experienced Care Managers at (717) 540-4663 to schedule a free in-home consultation.