Alzheimer's & Dementia: Questions You Have...Answers You by Jennifer Hay

By Jennifer Hay


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Q: You said that most instances of depression can be treated. How? A: The most common methods used to treat depression are psychotherapy, which employs psychological methods ranging from psychoanalysis to behavioral modification, and pharmacotherapy, which uses antidepressant drugs. Treatment may involve either method or a combination of the two. Q: Can these treatments be used to relieve depression in people whose dementia is caused by some other problem? A: With some modifications, yes. Standard psychotherapy is generally effective only in the early stages of progressive, irreversible dementia, when the patient still has certain cognitive abilities intact.

Q: That's some consolation. Is dementia common? A: Exact numbers are hard to come by. 5 million people with dementia in the United States, but several factors indicate that current figures may be higher. 5 million. In 1989, however, a landmark Harvard Medical School study raised that estimate to 4 milliona figure substantially higher than the lower range of the 1987 government estimate for all people with dementia. In addition, the 1987 report itself predicted a 60 percent increase in the number of people with dementia by the year 2000.

As you might assume, experiencing a decline in your cognitive abilities and being aware of that decline can generate emotional reactions akin to depression. But many experts believe that the depression that occurs with dementia is also a reaction to other, physical changes that are occurring. For example, one 1995 study indicates that, at least in Alzheimer's patients, depression symptoms, such as passivity, disinterest in activity, listlessness and apathy, may actually be a result of a decrease in dopamine, a brain chemicala decrease caused by Alzheimer's (American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry).

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