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Dementia Facts: Recognizing the Difference Between Dementia and Depression accent

December 22, 2021 | By

You might think there is a clear line between dementia and depression, but the two are actually closely related. These conditions not only share many similar symptoms, but can directly impact one another. 

That’s why knowing the differences between them is critical to one’s quality of life. Although dementia is a progressive, incurable illness, depression is treatable and sometimes even curable. These depression and dementia facts can help you detect the signs in yourself or someone you love. 

Dementia Facts: Untangling the Link Between Depression and Dementia

Although awareness is increasing, many people still believe that depression is just sadness. In reality, it’s much more, causing apathy, pain, and sometimes even trouble concentrating or thinking clearly. Many of these symptoms can mimic dementia in older adults, especially when people are primed to look for dementia rather than depression. 

Also, some forms of dementia specifically target emotions and behavior. Frontotemporal dementia can cause a loss of motivation, behavior changes, and struggles with concentration well before it affects memory. These symptoms are all similar to those seen in depression. 

It’s also possible that a dementia diagnosis can cause depression. Although this is understandable, depression related to a diagnosis can erode a person’s quality of life before dementia does.

The line between dementia and depression becomes even more blurred when you consider that an estimated one in six people with dementia has major depressive disorder. Because the two diagnoses can co-occur, having one doesn’t rule out the other. To ensure your quality of life, it’s essential to get tested and treated for both. 

An Early Warning for Dementia

Data suggests that depression late in life may also be an early warning sign of dementia. A 2012 study suggests that, rather than causing dementia, depression may be an early dementia symptom.

Depression or Dementia? 

Self-diagnosis is never a good idea. Someone may mistakenly assume a loved one has dementia when they actually have treatable depression. Anyone who suspects they might have depression or dementia should see a doctor and discuss their symptoms. 

Signs of depression include: 

  • Sadness and unhappiness: feeling hopeless about the future, deeply sad, or even suicidal. 
  • Loss of motivation: seeming apathetic and struggling to enjoy activities they once loved.
  • Physical symptoms: gaining or losing weight, feeling unexplained pain, and experiencing sleep difficulties or fatigue. 

Signs of dementia include: 

  • Changes in thinking: Beyond memory loss, this may also include mood or personality changes, trouble with complex tasks, or issues with impulse control. 
  • Changes in mood or personality: Some forms of dementia can also alter personality, such as a once-shy person suddenly struggling to control their impulses.
  • Physical health symptoms: Dementia attacks many aspects of brain function, potentially impacting balance, strength, and sleep. 

Symptoms can be sporadic. People with depression, for example, may try to conceal their symptoms and pretend to be happy, whereas people with dementia may have more difficulties late in the day or in unfamiliar settings. 

Types of Testing to Expect

To get the most accurate results, medical providers should conduct comprehensive evaluations, not just quick screenings. Validated screening tools for depression can diagnose this condition and rule out other issues, such as head injuries or anxiety disorders. 

Several cognitive screenings can diagnose dementia, but a doctor might also recommend additional tests — such as an MRI — to identify dementia-related changes in the brain and confirm the diagnosis. 

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Getting Help

Although dementia is progressive and incurable, some interventions can help manage the symptoms, and some medications may temporarily slow the disease. Lifestyle changes and a supportive environment may also help. Some people may also want to make financial decisions, document their end-of-life preferences and speak to an estate lawyer to ensure peace of mind before the disease potentially progresses. 

Depression, by contrast, is highly treatable. Helpful interventions include therapy, lifestyle changes, and antidepressants. If someone has depression along with dementia, depression treatment is still crucial. In fact, some symptoms that seem to be caused by dementia may be caused by depression, so treating depression is essential. 

Staying Active Is Key

Active living can optimize the quality of life of people living with depression or dementia. Daily activities, meaningful social interactions, and a supportive environment all work together to maximize mental and cognitive health. 

WesleyLife provides support to older adults and caregivers, whether the goal is to live in one of our communities or remain at home. To learn more about what we offer, check out our resources about Memory Support with WesleyLife’s Communities for Healthy Living.

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