Q. My father has Alzheimer's disease, but it's my mother I'm concerned about. She often seems depressed, and has cut out most of her own activities. How can I help her?
A. Caregiving is a very difficult job, and caregivers often feel overwhelmed and isolated. They may also be grieving the gradual loss of their loved one. One common problem among caregivers is that most of their time is occupied by routine tasks, such as getting their loved one bathed and dressed, doing housekeeping, shopping, bill paying, etc. Even when they do manage to take time for themselves, they are often interrupted by their loved one. Your mother may be finding that most of her interactions with your father are either unpleasant or bothersome, what we call "hassles."
Research has shown that "hassles" are associated with depression and stress in caregivers, and may even trigger physical illness if they become too overwhelming. One way you may be able to help your mother is to encourage her to get help with the "hassles." Other family members or paid caregivers may be available to help with tasks that are time-consuming or difficult. An adult day center may provide several hours of respite. Help your mother identify activities that she and your father can still enjoy together, and help make those activities happen. Every one of us needs time for our own interests. Talk with your mother about your concerns, and ask how she is feeling. Your concern may give her permission to get help.
Symptoms of depression include sadness, loneliness, loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep patterns, fatigue, changes in appetite, aches and pains, and difficulty concentrating and making decisions. If your mother is experiencing several of these symptoms, or if she is thinking or talking about death or suicide, you and your mother will need to consult a health care professional about evaluating and treating her. Physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, and social workers all treat people who are depressed. A family doctor, hospital, or community clinic may be able to identify the most appropriate place to get depression treatment. There are many effective treatments for depression, and with your support, the chances are very good that your mother will be feeling better soon.