Understanding the Differences in Depression and Dementia

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Elderly woman looking out a window

Would you recognize if a senior loved one had depression or dementia?

Visiting Mom recently revealed a number of concerning signs. Though she has always been up and out of bed before 7 a.m., now it’s difficult to wake her before noon. Rather than going to great lengths to prepare an elaborate home-cooked meal, she would rather merely warm up a can of soup; and can barely finish a small bowlful. On top of that, she’s lost interest in enjoying time with her best friends from her knitting club. Could she be suffering from depression or dementia? 

There are a number of similarities between the two, like:

  • Eating and sleeping changes
  • Reduced interest in formerly enjoyed interests and hobbies, and spending time with others
  • Reduced memory and the ability to focus

There are, however, a number of distinguishing differences to help identify whether depression or dementia could be at play:

Dementia:

  • A slow, progressive decline in mental functioning
  • Noticeable problems with motor and/or language skills
  • Difficulty with memory, without being aware of these problems
  • Confusion in knowing the correct date, time, and surroundings

Depression:

  • A more rapid decline in mental functioning
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • A bit slower, but still normal motor and language abilities
  • Difficulty with memory issues, but being aware of the problem
  • Awareness of correct date, time and surroundings

Sometimes, both conditions can impact a person simultaneously. Brent Forester, MD, director of the mood disorders division in the geriatric psychiatry research program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, shares, “40 to 50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease get depression, but depression also may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.”

If you suspect either depression or dementia in a senior loved one, arrange for an appointment as soon as possible with his/her doctor. Receiving a correct diagnosis and beginning a treatment plan is imperative. 

Help for depression can include an antidepressant along with therapeutic counseling, or hospitalization if the difficulties are severe and require more intensive treatment. Dementia care usually involves medications that help with specific symptoms, like sleep problems, memory loss, or changes in behavior. 

If a senior you love has been diagnosed with either depression or dementia, or is struggling with any other difficulties of aging, San Diego Home Caregivers can help. With our skilled dementia and elder home care services, we’re here for whatever specific needs your loved one is facing. Contact us online or at (619) 487-9000 for more information on home health in La Jolla, or to request a free in-home consultation. For a full list of all of the communities where we provide care, please visit our Communities Served page.