Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is Dementia Contagious?

All caregiving is stressful. We help caregivers reduce the stress of caring for loved ones with dementia, but we can't eliminate it. The two most common results of caregiver stress are increased illness (reduced resistance to disease) and depression.

A recent study done at McGill University in Montreal found that untreated depression can lead to dementia. In other words, in some situations you can catch dementia from your loved one.

Depression in caregivers is more common and long-lasting than in all other caregiver situations.

Scientists speculate that this is because, on average, dementia caregivers provide care for a much longer period of time than do any other caregivers.

Below are nine questions your physician might ask you if he suspected depression. You might have a depressed mood (not true depression) if you have even just one symptom, but if you have five or more symptoms you qualify for a diagnosis of major depression.

Do you have:

  • A persistent sadness or general unhappiness

  • Chronic fatigue or lack of energy

  • A lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy

  • Consistent irritability or consistently feel agitated

  • A progressive change in your appetite or your weight

  • A change (not caused by your loved one) in your normal sleep pattern

  • Feelings that you are worthlessness or you feel excessive or inappropriate guilt

  • Difficulty concentrating or feel you are not thinking clearly

  • Any thoughts of ending it all or committing suicide

If you feel you have more than five of the above symptoms you might want to do a quick self test on your memory. As one physician once told me "If you can't seem to keep track of your keys your probably just getting older, but if you can't remember what keys are you may have dementia".

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see where you fall on the memory scale. Do you have:

  • Difficulty remembering things much more often than you used to

  • Difficulty remembering how to do things you've done many times before

  • Difficulty learning new things

  • Experiences where you repeat phrases or stories in the same conversation

  • Trouble making choices or handling money

  • Difficulty keeping track of what happens each day

Caregivers who don't get help to resolving depression may get dementia. If you answered "yes" to more than three of the above questions you may be experiencing abnormal memory loss. Consult your physician with these test scores and ask his opinion. Both depression and dementia can be reversed. Often they are symptoms of vitamin deficiency, lack of sleep, medication side effects, or simply stress. Your physician can help you sort them out.

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