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Depression or Dementia?

Determining whether a loved one has dementia or depression can often be difficult.  This is because the two illnesses have so many similar symptoms.  And studies have suggested that as many as half of dementia patients also have depression.  So with so much overlap how do you determine if your loved one has dementia, depression, or possibly both?  Here is some information that can help in making that determination.


  First let us discuss the common symptoms between the two illnesses.  Anxiety, irritability, poor sleeping habits, agitation, apathy, difficulty concentrating, and memory loss are all common symptoms.  The key difference is that dementia affects cognitive ability while depression affects emotions.  So someone with depression may not want to drive the car, pay the bills, or pay attention to details while someone with dementia simply can’t do these things.  And to further complicate things; a person who experiences the early signs of memory loss may build up so much anxiety and fear that it actually launches them into depression.

So here are some tell-tale signs to look out for to determine if a doctor’s visit is necessary: fatigue, sleeping too much, frequent crying episodes, sad feelings, hopelessness, poor appetite, overeating, and thoughts of dying or suicide.  When these symptoms last for at least two weeks, it’s time to take action.  According to Leslie Kernisan, M.D. there are five questions you should ask a loved one if you suspect depression:

  • Do you often feel helpless?
  • Do you often get bored?
  • Are you basically satisfied with your life?
  • Do you feel worthless the way you are now?
  • Do you prefer to stay at home rather than go out? 

 Talking to a Love One

How do you bring up the topic of depression to a loved one?  It’s important to understand that most elderly people don’t want to talk about depression simply because it’s embarrassing.  So let them know it’s normal and they have nothing to fear.  Showing empathy and actively listening make it easier for them to open up and asking open questions such as “you seem more tired and down than usual, are you okay?” may help to get them talking.

 Treatment Options

There are many options available to helping someone who is experiencing depression.  First, this diagnosis should be confirmed by a medical doctor.  And depending on the severity the doctor can recommend treatment options.  Besides prescribing antidepressants, there are other ways to help as well.  Exposure to fresh air and sunlight are effective as well as physical exercise.  Simply planning daily activities around the senior’s interests can help to get them involved and excited again.  Joining a support group can let your loved know they aren’t alone in their feelings and many other people are going through the exact same thing.  Going to counseling may also help in resolving some depression issues.  The most important thing is to just take action.

If you suspect your loved one is experiencing depression please speak up and address the issue.  By getting involved you may save your loved one years of hopelessness and dramatically improve their quality of life.

Written by Stephanie Roberts for

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