Depression or Dementia?

Depression in Seniors Often Misdiagnosed as Dementia

It’s a little known fact that depression can sometimes mask as dementia in an older person. An accurate diagnosis is vital for the benefit of the senior, but many times, a depressed older person will be inaccurately diagnosed with dementia. When this occurs and the senior is treated for dementia, the depression continues to worsen, often resulting in a downward spiral.

Dementia is a brain disorder; depression is a mood disorder.

As brains age, most people notice some slower cognitive abilities and occasional problems remembering certain things. However, serious memory loss, confusion and other major changes in the way our minds work are not a normal part of aging. Dementia is characterized by mental decline and impairment and is a term that describes disorders which affect the following functioning of the brain:
• Loss of memory
• Judgment
• Language
• Complex motor skills
• Other intellectual function

People with progressive dementia will most likely lose the ability to perform everyday tasks necessary to live independently. However, not all people who experience memory loss have dementia. Depression may be associated with cognitive impairment and needs to be ruled out before the diagnosis of dementia is made.

According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 2 million out of 35 million Americans age 65 or older suffer from full-blown depression; another 5 million suffer from less severe forms of the illness. Warning signs of depression include:
• Sadness
• Lack of energy
• Feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness
• Social isolation or withdrawal
• Irritability
• Inappropriate or excessive guilt
• Changes in sleep patterns
• Constant aches and pains
• Change in appetite
• Difficulty concentrating
• Recurrent thoughts of death, suicide plans or a suicide attempt
Dementia and depression share similar symptoms, such as:
• Memory problems
• Sluggish speech and movements
• Low motivation

Whether the cognitive decline is caused by dementia or depression, prompt diagnosis and treatment are important. If it’s depression, memory, concentration and energy will bounce back with treatment. Treatment for dementia will also improve quality of life, and in some types of dementia, symptoms can be reversed, halted or slowed.

Memory screenings can be the first steps in identifying whether a person is suffering from dementia or depression. Memory screenings are particularly useful to anyone who:
• is concerned about memory loss or experiencing warning signs of dementia
• has family and friends noticing changes in his/her behavior
• believes he/she is at risk due to family history and/or a recent illness
• does not have a concern right now, but wants to establish a baseline score for comparison in the future

A memory screening is not used to diagnose any particular illness and does not replace consultation with a qualified physician or other healthcare professional. However, it is a good first step towards diagnosis and treatment. For more information about memory screenings in the local community or dementia and depression in older adults, please contact Professional Caretakers. Professional Caretakers, in alliance with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America can help you setup a free confidential memory screening through your local Alzheimer’s Association.