Agitation and Depression in Patients with Brain Disease

By: Madeline Roberts Vann, MPH

Depression and stress are normal among people who have illnesses that affect their brain. Understanding the possible causes of depression and stress can help ensure that the person gets the necessary medical or therapeutic care.

Depression and Brain Disease

Although everyone has times when they feel down or blue, negative feelings, thoughts and behaviors that continue for weeks and interfere with daily living are likely the result of depression. Many people respond to a difficult diagnosis with a period of sadness, grieving, anger or withdrawal before they start to cope with their new lives. Others cannot cope and become depressed. In people with dementia, depression can also spur "acting out" feelings of anger, putting additional strain on the caregiver.


Caregivers should know the signs of depression:

  1. Little or no interest in things that once brought pleasure
  2. Feeling down or hopeless
  3. Sleeping too much or not enough
  4. Feeling tired or without energy
  5. Overeating or loss of appetite
  6. Feeling bad about yourself
  7. Not being able to concentrate
  8. Thoughts of hurting or killing yourself
  9. Aggressive behavior or violent outbursts in a person who does not usually behave that way

The Brain Disease-Depression Link

Some brain diseases are more likely to lead to depression than others. A person with dementia often also experiences depression, in part because of the diagnosis and in part because depression and dementia tend to happen to the same person.

People who have left-brain strokes are more likely to experience depression than people who have right-brain strokes. Although no one fully understands why this happens, the relationship has been established.

A person who has received a terminal diagnosis of brain cancer is at risk for depression, but so is a person with a traumatic brain injury who is facing tough therapy. Whether people become depressed is a result of their vulnerabilities and coping skills as well as their environment and situation.