Skip to main content

Dementia affects a person’s emotional state. Dementia can also be a distressing experience. As a result, depression is very common among people living with dementia.

Depression can vary in severity. It can be a temporary reaction to an event—losing a loved one, for example. Or it can be an ongoing state that requires treatment.

It can be hard to know if someone with dementia is depressed as the symptoms can overlap. You might notice they:

  • lose interest or pleasure in the things they used to enjoy
  • lack energy
  • lose their appetite
  • sleep too much or too little
  • express feelings of guilt, worthlessness or sadness
  • are emotional or agitated
  • seem more confused.

Causes of depression

People living with dementia in long-term residential care are most at risk of developing depression. But it can happen to anyone.

Some of the reasons people with dementia become depressed include:

  • physical illness
  • social isolation
  • fatigue
  • environmental factors like lack of sunlight and fresh air, or overstimulation from background noise
  • a response to their dementia diagnosis, and the impact they think it will have on their life
  • side effects from medication.

What you can do

If you think your friend or family member is experiencing depression, organise an appointment with their doctor. If the doctor diagnoses depression, they might:

  • prescribe antidepressant medication. Ask about side effects and how you can watch for them
  • refer the person to a psychologist or counsellor.

On a day-to-day basis, you can support the person by:

  • sticking to a daily routine
  • encouraging them to exercise, as this can improve their mood
  • avoiding overstimulation by reducing noise and activity
  • organising activities they used to enjoy, and include family and friends
  • timing tasks for when they have the most energy
  • being positive and supportive while respecting their experience
  • including the person in as much conversation as they feel comfortable with.

It’s okay to take care of your own health and happiness. If you're struggling as someone who cares for a person with dementia, contact the free, confidential National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500, any time of the day or night, for information, advice and support.

Share or print
Last updated
15 December 2023