4 Tips for Managing Depression in a Loved One with Dementia


As any veteran caregiver can attest to, dementia has a nasty way of making a difficult situation even more challenging.

So, when you combine dementia and depression together in a single elderly loved one, it can be especially hard for a concerned family member to know how to make things better.

Anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety medications—which of these (if any) is right for an aging adult with depression and dementia? Is there a way that I can I help my loved one without putting them on high doses of medication?

Depending on what kind of dementia your loved one has, and how severe their depression is, the answers to these questions will vary; which is why Robin Dessel, Director of Memory Care at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, says the first step is to seek a formal diagnosis of depression from a qualified medical professional.

After an official diagnosis has been made and a treatment plan—involving talk therapy, medications or a combination of both—has been drawn up, Dessel suggests caregivers turn to holistic therapies (i.e. mediation, yoga, breathing exercises, etc.) to, "foster health and harmony," in a loved one who is dealing with both dementia and depression.

According to Dessel, holistic therapies are a growing trend in the field of dementia care. "I have observed the power of holistic healing—not in reversing or resolving a medical diagnosis—but in re-igniting the human spirit," she says.

Dessel offers a few tips for helping a loved one with dementia manage their depression holistically:

  • Approach the healing process the right way: Depending on your loved one's individual situation, medications to manage their symptoms may or may not be necessary. Either way, Dessel suggests putting your efforts towards, "re-igniting the human spirit" in your family member. She says that she has seen first-hand how interventions such as visualization, yoga and deep breathing can help people with dementia combat depression.Discover additional benefits of yoga for seniors.
  • Infuse life with fulfilling activities: Ask yourself one question: What used to bring happiness and fulfillment to my loved one's life? Attempt to incorporate some form of their previous passions into their regular routine. If attending salsa dancing lessons is out of the question for your mom, you could split the difference by playing a bit of salsa music and encouraging her to get up and dance in the living room.
  • Get out of the house: Dessel recommends "fresh air therapy" as a wonderful way to help a depressed loved one re-connect with the invigorating energy of the living world. While you're out and about, try encouraging your family member to engage socially as well. If you need some inspiration, here's a list of 10 summer activities to do with seniors.
  • Embrace imperfection: Your elderly loved one is likely going to want to do things for themselves as much as possible. As long as there is no danger of them hurting themselves or someone else, Dessel recommends allowing an elder to do as much as they can on their own—even if that means that the laundry isn't perfectly folded, or the dishes are put away haphazardly.

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!


these are very nice things to do ,but my hubby is very low at the moment he is in his last stages and has young onset dementia he tends to know he is unwell but cannot understand why he is hospital ,why he cannot come home he can say some words but not understanderable to me ,but would love to help as much as I can to give him some happiness but his mobility is not good so I still do not know what to do .
My Mom has depression running in her family. She is in Assisted Living and has Arthritis in her back and Congested Heart Failure. Her balance is off as she has fluid on the brain and because of her diabetes she needs to move but does and will not get out of bed until 2 pm. All her life she has been to Doctor's all her life, Her Dad passed away in 1981 as he quit eating because he said he wanted to die and he succeeded . Her brother hung himself at the age of 60, leaving a letter that he did not want to grow old. Counseling at this point does not help as her memory is not good and she refuses to talk. She has a walker and has finally accepted it.
I think this is a welcome article. Those four things are roughly the framework I try to bring when I do elder care - I learned this focus when I had made time to sit with, do activities with and when any new plan was decided - I would listen closely to my disabled brother's reactions and day to day stories, and I could observe closely whether he sounded encouraged, whether he was moving well - "Slow medicine", in the book, "My mother, Your mother" - where the physician talks of his own transformation when he became a patient and also when he was caring for his own mother, and learned that she needed company, at her pace, given by someone who made the time, and accepted themselves - this means that sometimes if you make time, you will have to miss or fail - it's not a mathmatical formula, but a repeated time of visits, where the focus is not on trying to help them remember or regain the past, but enjoys them as they speak now, understanding that it's not all about the words, it's about the enjoyment of their speech, now.

It is tempting to think that the professional diagnosis and planned intervention is going to fix something. We have legions of professionals, all with great plans. But what the elder can handle, is a predictable routine, and spending time with them while honoring that slow and simple routine, is the best healing one can offer. Not everyone involved has to play that role, but it matters for them to have someone, for otherwise, people try to assess what's happening by asking questions, and that does not work with many people - that doesn't encourage them to talk and relax - it's the listening and attention and relating to their answers that adds the encouragement. In that slow process also, one notices where glitches exist in their current setting, and resolving those glitches helps them feel that someone is paying attention, helping them rather than expecting them to explain all needs, for many elders seek to avoid rocking any boat, or inconveniencing others - and if some do that, they feel alone and guilty afterwards - many elders want a soothing, attentive, gentle company, not overwhelming for anyone (for it takes a team of varied involvements).