Supporting a loved one living with dementia is an emotionally challenging time. It can affect all aspects of a person's life, as well as their families.
Dementia rarely travels alone. The stark reality is that 7 in 10 people living with dementia are also living with another medical condition. Nearly a third of those diagnosed with dementia experience symptoms of depression.
The exact cause of depression can vary from person to person and symptoms can be difficult to differentiate from dementia itself. If you feel a family member is showing signs or symptoms of depression or anxiety, it is important for them to consult their GP.
As a family member or friend, you can sometimes feel helpless. However, there are lots of simple ways to support someone one coping with both conditions and improve their quality of life. Often, simply helping someone to stay socially and physically active will have a positive impact on their mental wellbeing.
Here are six easy ways to be supportive when dementia and depression collide:
Help them get moving
Regular physical activity has been linked to a reduced risk of developing dementia and can boost your mood if you have depression. The World Health Organisation recommends that older adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise over a week. This should be vigorous enough to increase your heart rate and cause you to breathe more deeply.
You don't have to join a gym in order to get moving, activities such as walking, gardening or dancing to your favourite song in the kitchen together will bring benefits.
Encouraging your family member or friend to take up a new activity, exercise class or sport may be a great way for them to get out of the house regularly, move more and help ease the symptoms of depression.
However, keep in mind that anyone starting a new exercise programme or routine should make sure the level is appropriate for their capabilities. Those who have not exercised for a while should seek medical advice before embarking on new physical activities.
Encourage healthy eating
Research has shown that there is a link between a Mediterranean diet and a healthy brain. A diet containing plenty of fresh fruit and veg, beans, cereals, nuts and some olive oil could help prevent depression and reduce the risk of developing dementia.
If you have time, batch cook healthy, balanced meals, and divide into individual portions to store in the freezer. It's an easy way to make life a little easier.
Encourage your loved one to cut down tea and coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant, drinking too much could do more than keep them up at night; it can amplify feelings of anxiety and depression. Additionally, suddenly stopping or reducing caffeine can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
A gentle reminder to keep hydrated and drink plenty of water will help too. Fruit juices and smoothies are great as a source of vitamins and minerals but consume in moderation as they may contain lots of sugar.
These small changes could make a big difference to someone's mental and physical wellbeing.
Music can improve mood, decrease stress and stimulate memories. Musical activities also encourage movement and socialising in groups.
There are some great dementia friendly groups, such as the Alzheimer's Society's Singing for the Brain. Their events bring people together through a love of singing. It's not only a fun activity but builds on the well-known preserved memory for song and music in the brain.
With an activity to concentrate on, it may make it easier to engage with new people. Find some information on local choirs for your loved one and offer them a lift if possible.
Keep in touch
A YouGov poll found that while Alzheimer's is the greatest concern for over 60's, having grandchildren is the thing people we are most looking forward to in our retirement year. This is a poignant reminder of the importance of family and the impact we can have on our elders.
Whether you're the son, daughter, sibling or grandchild of someone living with dementia, staying in touch can have positive implications for their happiness and brain activity.
Furthermore, thinking skills are improved by making meaningful interactions with other people. Quality trumps quantity here. If your interactions are enjoyable, they are more likely it is to be beneficial. Loneliness can have a negative impact on mental agility, so try and keep a regular engagement if possible.
Help them to connect with their passions
Engaging in activities that are meaningful or important to someone living with dementia may help their mental wellbeing. There are lots ways you can help.
Collect some crafting materials together or encourage time in the garden. Identify what they love doing and try to make it possible.
There are lots of simple ways that you can help someone with dementia connect with their passions. Take a flexible and supportive approach; if you face resistance with an activity take a break or try again later.
With a little patience, you may help them rediscover a passion of the past and even stir some memories. However, it's important to focus on enjoying the activity together, not the outcome.
You may learn more about their personality and interests, bringing you closer together.
Be someone to talk to
Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen. Be reassuring, and make it clear that you value their feelings. Dementia can make it more difficult for people to communicate which could be upsetting or frustrating for both of you.
A quiet, calm place, free of distractions is the best environment to connect. Give them your full attention, be patient and generous with your time; feeling rushed or stressed may make the interaction more difficult.
Speak calmly and clearly with open and relaxed body language. It may help to speak at a slightly slower pace than usual. Listen carefully to what the person is saying, and offer encouragement.
For more information on how to talk to talk to someone living with dementia, visit the Alzheimer's Society online.
Patience is the key
Physical, mental and social activity combined with a healthy diet is more effective for brain vitality that any of these factors alone.
Whether a family member's depression is a cause or symptom of their dementia there are lots of easy ways that you can help. Small steps to help them improve their wellbeing and stay engaged with their passions can improve their quality of life. Patience, understanding and an open ear can go a long way to support a loved one.