Is It Dementia or Depression?
Tuesday, November 8 2011 1:30 AM
It’s easy to confuse depression with dementia, since depression is often misdiagnosed and both have similar symptoms. A person who has been diagnosed with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, may experience depression because of that fact alone. Unfortunately, a single test to differentiate dementia from depression does not exist. So, how can you tell if a loved one is depressed, has dementia or both?
Depression and dementia are not part of the normal aging process, the causes are often not well known, and the symptoms are extremely varied. An individual who has dementia and an individual with depression may both exhibit memory issues, lack of motivation or withdraw from activities that they used to enjoy. They may also experience difficulty communicating and have problems with orientation.
Symptoms tend to progress more rapidly for individuals with depression than for those with dementia. Individuals with depression often have difficulty with concentration, while dementia more often causes issues with short-term memory loss. For example, a person who is depressed may not answer a question because he or she doesn’t care or hasn’t been concentrating on what you asked, whereas someone with dementia will more likely give you a “near-miss” or a vague answer. A person with dementia will often have trouble with providing detailed or specific answers.
Someone with depression may be slow to respond verbally or otherwise, but he or she hasn’t lost these skills and abilities. On the other hand, a person with dementia is more likely to experience a decline related to the ability to write, speak or use motor skills as the disease progresses. A person with depression may know the correct day, time and place. But someone with dementia can become disoriented, confused and lost in a familiar location.
If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms that you believe may be related to depression or dementia, it is best to consult a doctor for a professional diagnosis and to discuss treatment options. Also, pastors and other clergy can help to provide much-needed spiritual support to both the family of and the individual who is experiencing symptoms of dementia and/or depression during uncertain times.
By Michelle Kutner, CSW, MSW, CTRS
Specialty Service Consultant
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