The Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Depression

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The role of a caregiver is not easy. The workload is time consuming, physically and emotionally taxing, and can lead to feelings of frustration, stress, anger, isolation and depression. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related diseases is even more challenging, as caregivers find themselves having to deal with multiple behavioral and psychological symptoms (confusion, wandering, aggression, and self-harm), in addition to having to administer personal care and medical care (bathing, dressing, feeding tubes, catheters, wound care and injections).

The Alzheimer’s Association 2019 Alzheimer’s  Disease Report cited that:

  • Fifty-nine percent of dementia caregivers rated their stress as “very high.”
  • Approximately 30 to 40 percent of dementia caregivers suffer from depression – compared to 20 percent of caregivers of people with other chronic illnesses.
  • Spousal caregivers are two and a half times more likely to experience depression than non-spousal caregivers.
  • The risk for caregiver depression increases as symptoms worsen and the person with dementia continues to decline.
  • Forty-one percent of dementia caregivers reported that they are the sole providers of care for the person diagnosed.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.  Depression is generally ranked in terms of severity: mild, moderate or severe. The four things you should know about depression is:

  1. Depression is a real illness.
  2. Depression affects people in different ways.
  3. Depression is treatable.
  4. If you have depression, you are not alone.

Signs and Symptoms:

Depression has many symptoms and not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom.   Major depression is significantly more than occasionally feeling low or having the blues.  If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day; nearly every day; or for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:

  • Mood swings: feelings of persistent sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness.
  • Irritability: becoming easily agitated and angered over small things.
  • Brain fog: difficulty concentrating, planning, remembering, or making decisions.
  • Loss of interest: in hobbies and normal activities that you enjoy.
  • Sleep disturbances: Insomnia or oversleeping. Difficulty falling asleep, waking up in the morning.
  • Unexplained pains:  headaches, backaches, and stomachaches.
  • Digestive: Problems with eating and weight (gain or loss).
  • Lethargy: feeling tired all the time. No motivation.
  • Neglecting yourself: physical well-being and appearance.
  • Addictive behaviors:  increase in alcohol or drug consumption.
  • Self-harm: thoughts of death or suicide.

What You Can Do:

Unfortunately, feelings of depression are often seen as a sign of weakness and as a result, people tend to ignore the problem, which hinders them from seeking professional help. Depression does not have to take over your life. Early intervention through regular check-ups, healthy eating, a regular exercise routine, making time for yourself, and establishing a strong support network can reduce stress and help to avoid developing more serious behaviors related to depression.

Even the most severe cases of depression can be treated. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can begin treatment and start enjoying your life again. If you are concerned that you are depressed, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. A mental health professional such as a psychologist, therapist or social worker can help you find treatment and resources to help you cope.

To prepare for your doctor’s appointment, NIMH recommends that you make a note of the following information:

  • Any symptoms you have been experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment.
    • When did your symptoms start?
    • How severe are your symptoms?
    • Have the symptoms occurred before?
    • If the symptoms have occurred before, how they were treated?
  • Key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
  • All medications, vitamins, or other supplements that you are taking, including how much and how often.
  • Any questions you have to ask your health provider.

Caregiver Resources:

The National Institute of Mental Health

www.nimh.nih.gov

NIMH Resource Center

Telephone:

  • 1-866-615-6464 (toll-free)
  • 1-301-443-8431 (TTY)
  • 1-866-415-8051 (TTY toll-free)

NIMH Downloadable Booklet:  Depression What You Need to Know

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA): 

The FCA fact sheet Depression and Caregiving offers a more in-depth discussion of this issue and is available in both English and Spanish on the FCA website.

Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Stress Check Resource Guide.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call the 24-hour, toll-free confidential hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Sources: Alzheimer’s Association:  Alzheimer’s Association’s 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures; National Institute of Mental Health: Depression, What You Need to Know; Family Caregiver Alliance: www.caregiver.org

Write to Chrishun Brown at Chrishun_m_brown@rush.edu

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