Is It Depression or Dementia?

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Getting Older

It’s no secret that there is a strong connection between depression and dementia. The question is how can we differentiate between the two? And how do we know which it may be?

Researchers agree that depression and dementia can go hand in hand. They have debated whether the two conditions share common causes, or whether depression is an early sign of dementia. Researchers have found that people who become depressed later in life have a 70% increased risk of developing dementia.

Depression in older adults is steadily increasing, along with emotional problems like stress, anxiety or depression. These emotional problems can lead to forgetfulness, confusion, and other symptoms associated with dementia.

Many older adults develop memory problems from health issues, or side effects of medications, vitamin deficiencies, or even substance abuse problems. Memory issues related to these may be treatable.

How can we tell the difference between normal age-related forgetfulness, or memory loss brought on by challenges from those treatable conditions versus dementia or even Alzheimer’s?

Depression in Older Adults

Depression is a mental health issue that causes a person to feel continued sadness. They can lose interest in everyday things. Depression is one of the most treatable mental health disorders. Seeking help can significantly improve an individual’s life.

Some depression signs and symptoms are:

  • Trouble concentrating,
  • Remembering the details
  • Persistent Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts

If it is depression, getting treatment can improve memory, concentration and the energy. Making some lifestyle changes can also have a positive impact. Eating healthy, getting enough sleep, staying active, being socially engaged, exercise and controlling stress levels are all important to one’s emotional health.

What is Dementia?

Not a specific disease, dementia is a group of conditions characterized by impairment of at least two brain functions like memory loss and judgment. A few types of dementia include Alzheimer’s Disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and Frontotemporal dementia.

Symptoms of Dementia include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or problem solving
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood or personality

If it is dementia, treatment can slow the progression or at least improve the quality of life for the individual.

Depression vs. Dementia

A person with depression will most likely recognize there are memory-related issues whereas someone with dementia may be less likely to notice the decline.

Depression, confusion or forgetfulness can come on suddenly. Whereas dementia typically causes a very slow cognitive decline.

People who are depressed know who they are speaking with, what day and time it is, and where they are. Whereas people with dementia can easily forget these basics even when in familiar situations.

Depressed people use language correctly, albeit they may speak slowly at times. However, someone with dementia has many language issues such as difficulty remembering someone’s name or the name of certain objects.

Both depression and dementia are unique to the individual and certainly may vary case by case. Whether memory loss or cognitive decline is caused by depression or dementia is important to seek medical advice immediately.

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