Is It Depression? Is It Dementia? Maybe It’s Both

Aging can bring changes in routine and social isolation that can be very difficult for older adults. Loneliness or stress can cause your senior loved one to feel particularly down or less engaged than usual in their daily lives. Could they be suffering from depression, or has isolation brought out an underlying mild dementia?

senior woman looking out window

Dr. Catherine Madison, neurologist for Seniors At Home’s Center for Dementia Care, says that depression and dementia share many traits. Common symptoms shared by depression and dementia include:

  • Loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities or apathy
  • Neglected personal hygiene
  • Weight loss
  • Feelings of anxiety or irritability
  • Avoidance of social situations

It’s important to have a loved one fully evaluated to determine potential causes of any changes. Treatable causes of dementia or depression can include:

  • A sleep disorder such as sleep apnea
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Infection or illness
  • Medication side effects
  • Alcohol abuse

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a normal part of aging, but it becomes more common as we age. Dementia is a neurodegenerative illness in which abnormal proteins collect in the brain, leading to cell loss. It is estimated that 25% to 40% of individuals aged 85 and older have some form of dementia. This can look like:

  • Memory loss, particularly for new or recent information
  • Poor judgement or decision-making
  • Changes in behavior patterns
  • Word-finding difficulties or a decline in language skills

When these changes are not related to a treatable medical condition and are significant enough that we need some assistance with daily routines–this is a dementia.

Dr. Madison shares, “There are many types of dementia, including Lewy body dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia, but Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common. Getting a thorough evaluation to exclude treatable causes of depression or a dementia is critical to ensure you have the best treatment and care plan for the future.”

How to Tell the Difference

Given the overlap of symptoms, it can be difficult to tell whether your loved one is suffering from depression, dementia or even both conditions as they are not mutually exclusive. Don’t dismiss any of the symptoms outlined here―have your loved one evaluated.

Seeking Help

As your senior may not see changes as clearly as you do, you might need an ally to develop and deploy a plan. Seniors At Home is here to help you create a map and navigate toward a better future. Scheduling a consultation is the first step toward getting the help your loved one needs. We provide counseling, dementia care, and other support services, should they be required.

“No one chooses a diagnosis of dementia,” says Dr. Madison. “But we can choose information over fear and choose to approach the rest of our lives for maximizing joy, while connecting with those we love.”

If you or someone you care about needs assistance, please reach out to Seniors At Home at 415-449-3700 or contact us online.

Seniors At Home is a division of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, a trusted nonprofit institution that has been providing care since 1850. Our services are funded by fees and by donations for those who cannot afford the full cost of care for these critical services.