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Depression and Apathy in Alzheimer’s

When it concerns Alzheimer’s disease, emotions can run the gamut from intense to dull and apathetic. New research implicates depression as a trigger predisposing healthy people to contracting Alzheimer’s. This is to be distinguished from Alzheimer’s patients who tend to experience depression as a concomitant symptom. Then the disease often brings along apathy and blunted emotions observable by caregivers when patients get a vacant look and do not seem to react. Meanwhile family members and loved ones experience stress, sadness and depression. There seems to be an emotional soup. Caregivers have to be careful because chronic stress and now add depression as a cause put them at risk for getting the disease.

First, regarding depression during the healthy years – don’t accept it. If you feel that you are descending into the abyss, it is much easier to treat before it becomes full blown. Exercise is a great brain balancer and actually builds new neurons, enhances synaptic connections and sheds stress hormones which lodge longest in the hippocampus where memory is housed. Exercise according to the intensity of your stress and sadness, so you might need more than 30 minutes or an hour. Eat balanced meals. The brain does not work on empty. Get your Vitamin D and if you absorb natural sunlight as opposed to taking a pill, you will reap the sunny disposition as sunlight helps generate serotonin. Sometimes you might need fusion therapy: sun, headphones and a walk. If you can’t get motivated and good friends/family still can’t cheer you up, see your doctor.

Second, if your loved one is apathetic and withdrawn, recognize that it is not something he or she can easily snap out of because emotion and memory are linked. The stronger the emotion accompanying an experience the more likely a memory will be forged. Since the disease is all about memory loss, emotions dry up too. “Patients with the progressive brain disorder may also have a reduced ability to experience emotions” from a new study by Dr. Kenneth Heilman, senior author and professor of neurology at the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute. To help elicit emotional recognition provide the patient with more details about a person, photo or object.

Ultimately, as a caregiver, take care of yourself – you have a right to your authentic life. Edgar Allan Poe reveals in his short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” that no matter how stalwart one is, madness is contagious. While Alzheimer’s is a heart breaking disease which is terminal, realize that everyone dies, but not everyone lives. Make up your mind to live. You will transmit this positive life force to the patient. Good moods are also contagious.
For more information on caregiving read my book, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout. To listen to archived radio shows with guest experts visit Turn On Your Inner Light Radio Show




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