Caring For Their Feelings: Looking Out For Depression and Dementia


Depression prevents an elderly person from enjoying life like he/she used to. It effects mood, energy, sleep, physical health and appetite. Depression is not an inevitable part of aging. Caregivers can look for the red flags of depression like:

depression depression

Depression without sadness may come in the form of unexplained pain, feelings of helplessness, worries, poor memory, lack of motivation, slowness in movement or speech, irritability and neglecting personal care like skipping meals and personal hygiene.

On the other hand, dementia is a decline in mental ability that is severe enough to affect an elderly person’s function. It can affect a person’s memory, thinking or communication. Subtle changes in short term memory can be an early sign of dementia for example, the inability to tell what they had for breakfast. The leading cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease which is the commonest neurodegenerative disorder. In Alzheimer’s disease, the brain undergoes damage by abnormal deposits of protein which later causes cell death.

Key signs caregivers  may find in a person with a probable dementia are:


Depression and dementia share many similar symptoms but it can be difficult to tell the two apart. Older persons with depression will notice or worry about the worsening of their memory but those with dementia may not seem to care about their memory deficits.

Risk factors for depression are female gender, single, unmarried, lack of supportive social network, stressful life event, medical conditions such as stroke, diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, dementia.



If an elderly person shows suicide warning signs, what can caregivers do?

  1. ASK - don’t be afraid to ask directly if the person is thinking about suicide. It can be a relief to the suicidal person.
  2. LISTEN - let the person express his or her feelings and concerns
  3. SHOW YOU CARE - explan you want to help or take active steps like removing pills or weapon
  4. GET HELP - Visit a counselor or psychiatrist and other family members

Caring for elderly persons includes being concern about both their emotional and physical well-being. Here are some tips in promoting emotional well-being:

Caregivers certainly need to be creative and above all spend a little bit more time and energy, but not necessarily money.

Some of us may experience our loved ones acting up or showing some behavioural problems. Simple suggestions to help you care for them would be:

Walk slowly with the person while they are pacing around or stay near them to reduce anxiety.




DR. HAZLINA is a specialist in Internal Medicine, clinical fellow in Geriatric Medicine and lecturer based in HUKM.