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Dialing in on depression

Press-Republican - 1/23/2019

Jan. 23--PLATTSBURGH -- Depression is the other d-word that can be a companion to dementia.

Caregivers learned how to unpack it, recognize it and seek help for it at "Quality of Life Self-Care," an education and training program for caregivers of people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias held recently at the Clinton County Senior Center in Plattsburgh.

It can affect caregivers and those they are taking care of.


"In our society, depression is not seen as anything positive," said Danielle Hance, an educational specialist who works at the Alzheimer's Disease Caregiver Support Initiative at SUNY Plattsburgh.

"There's a lot of negativity around it, and it's often seen by many people as a sign of weakness. And I think that's especially big in the generation that is going through dementia right now, and their caregivers tend to see it that way, too."

People who have depression symptoms may not describe themselves as being depressed.

"They don't understand even what the signs of depression are," she said.

"Of course, researchers are still trying to pinpoint what causes depression. So that leaves that all up in the air what the causes could be."

Among contributing factors, she said, are:

--Environmental triggers.

--Some medications.

--Living with a serious illness, due to grief (losing a loved one).

--Living with someone with serious depression.

"And it's not uncommon for a person with dementia to be depressed, so therefore your primary caregiver, living with someone who is sad all the time, doesn't want to do anything all the time, is going to bring you down in the dumps, too," Hance said.


A caregiver who is battling depression may feel embarrassed.

"They can feel like a failure or that people around them are going to judge them," she said.

"But it's very common in those who are care-giving and a normal reaction to the difficult situation that they are in."

It's normal to have negative thoughts that come and go like clouds.

"It's when they stick around for a long time and you can't seem to shake them that you should start to be worried and talk to your doctor about it," Hance said.

"Because ignoring them is not going to make them go away.

"It's experienced in different ways by everybody, so it's really knowing yourself or really knowing your partner and how they tend to be and see the changes in them with help to identify it."


Symptoms of depression include:




--Extreme fatigue.

--Change in eating.

--Change in sleep.

--Not wanting to do any activities outside the home or at home.

"Maybe they just want to sit on the couch and do nothing all day," she said.


What should you do if you think you are depressed?

Caregivers should seek treatment the same as they would with any illness such as the flu.

"You really should go to the doctor and talk to them to see if they can get you on some treatment, maybe refer you to a counselor or start you on medications if they think that is the best avenue for you," Hance said.

"If using the word 'depressed' is something that you're not comfortable with, then explain how you're feeling. Use the words to kind of surround it, and they will draw their own conclusions from it."

Caregivers should also inform doctors if they are taking care of a parent or a spouse.

That can be a red flag to signal depression.

"Often when we are caring for someone else, our feelings and moods can be seen or felt by that person, so remember if you're taking the best care that you can of yourself then that's going to be felt by the other person," she said.


Self talk can set the tone of a person's life.

"We all know it, and we all know we do it," Hance said.

"Whether it's negative or positive, it can really influence how we see life. The unspoken things in our head. Sometimes the things we say out loud to ourselves when we think we're alone is usually positive or negative."

Self talk can originate from logic and reasoning or from self-created misunderstandings due to lack of information.

"If your thoughts are more negative, then your outlook on life tends to be more negative," she said.

"Whereas, if they are more positive, then you tend to be a more positive person. Having positive self talk can be both beneficial for a person's health in addition to helping reduce stress levels."

Positive thinking increases life span, lowers risk for depression, lowers stress, gives better resistance to the common cold, better psychological and physical well-being and better coping skills during hard times.

"Negative thinkers only focus on what the negative is and think it's never going to be positive," Hance said.

"We all know those people. They tend to take things personally. They think bad things happen because bad things always happen to them. They automatically prepare for the worst and make a mountain out of a mole hill.

"Everything is always a big deal."

In between the positive and and negative thinkers are the polarizers, who only see things as good or bad.


Ways to improve self talk include: identifying areas of change, challenging yourself, being open to humor, following a healthy lifestyle, surrounding yourself with positive people, practicing positive self-talk and encouraging others to do likewise.

"Start off small and think of the areas in your life you would like to change," she said.

"Start small with those and then build up upon, maybe, other things. Surround yourself with positive people."

On a bad day, she said, avoid calling a negative person who will bring you down with him or her.

"However, there is somebody else who you can call who is more positive," Hance said.

"They are going to talk it through with you but they will help you find a positive spin on your day."

Super negative people are not the ones to call when feeling down.

"So, pick your person and practice positive self talk," she said.

"Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend."

Email Robin Caudell:




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