When mum was first diagnosed with dementia, she had also been living with a diagnosis of depression.

Sometimes people living with a cognitive impairment can experience low mood and this can mean their dementia can be misdiagnosed as depression, and diagnosis may be delayed.

After leaving a trail of little clues like losing keys, or struggling with new systems at work, mum was eventually diagnosed with a Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Mum had already been signed off work for months with depression, but this new diagnosis meant she could not return.

She continued to live with bouts of depression. The truth is she lived with both diseases. Whether the emotions she had about living with dementia caused the depression or whether she would have lived with depression is something I wonder about. What I do know is that she had some traumatic life experiences which would have been enough to cause her mental health to be affected too. I also know that long term stress and trauma can cause cognitive impairment and I wonder if that contributed to her dementia.

People living with dementia often also live with mental health issues. Living with life affecting or limiting illnesses may affect our mental health. Depression may develop as a response to the grief felt as a result of loss. The loss of sense of self, the loss of the past, the present and being able to cope independently in the moment, and the loss of the imagined future. Mum had had so many dreams which she felt slipping away from her at speed. The lack of control over her future was a huge loss for her to come to terms with as was her sense of pride and purpose in her occupation. Being good at her job had meant so much to her.

I remember sitting with mum on a sunny day in her conservatory and asking what her depression was like for her. She replied that it was like being in a dark hole which was really difficult to come out of. I nodded acknowledging how hard it was for her. We sat quietly hand in hand letting that sink in.

Sometimes that is all we can do.

Mum did learn to live with her dementia pretty well although the black hole would swallow her up from time to time. She has a fiercely supportive husband who attended memory cafes with mum and helped her have opportunities to live well. She attended Cognitive Stimulation Therapy Sessions and blossomed as her humour and gregariousness brightened people’s day as she supported and received support from peers with similar diagnoses.

When I see her, despite her words making little sense, her tone expresses so much. When she takes my hand and rubs it better, we sit quietly. She fulfils the most important role; being my mum. Fulfilment and meaning are some of the keys to unlocking depression. The beauty is that when mum finds her keys and comes out of her dark hole she lights up the room with her presence.