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Does My Aging Parent Have Depression or Dementia?

By Rick Cohen, 9:00 am on

Dementia and depression have overlapping symptoms that can make it difficult to provide an accurate diagnosis. The key to successfully determining whether your loved one is dealing with depression, dementia or a combination of the two is careful observation, ongoing communication with doctors, and an understanding of the subtle differences between the conditions.

Recognizing Signs of Depression

Depending on the severity of depression, symptoms like confusion and forgetfulness can easily be mistaken for dementia. Milwaukee home care professionals note that it’s perfectly normal to feel a little down now and then. However, it’s not considered depression unless such feelings are coupled with persistent hopelessness, sadness, and a general lack of energy. Depression can also be caused by frustration with the healing process while recovering from surgery or an injury, or an accidental combination of prescription and over-the-counter medications. General symptoms of depression include:

  • Increased anxiety for no apparent reason
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Changes in sleeping habits (sleeping too much or not being able to sleep through the night)
  • Not paying attention to what’s being said (sometimes misinterpreted as confusion)

When Depression is Really Dementia

Depression and dementia are so closely related that even close family members may have difficulty sorting out the signs of both conditions. When a diagnosis can’t be positively made, doctors tend to treat obvious signs of depression while encouraging careful observation from hourly or live-in caregivers to spot signs that may indicate the presence of a dementia-related condition. Possible indications that depression is really dementia may include:

  • Not being able to remember names, facts, or recent conversations even when prompted
  • An inability to correctly determine time and place (not typical of depression)
  • Making an attempt to cover up forgetfulness (people who are depressed tend not worry about keeping up appearances)

If your elderly loved one has a dementia-related condition, it’s not unusual for him or her to realize that something is happening to them during moments of clarity, which may result in depression. Due to the difficulties associated with making an accurate diagnosis, treatments can vary greatly. However, it’s worth noting that some forms of dementia can be successfully reversed with medications that increase chemical messengers within the brain to improve memory and judgment.

To learn more about caring for a senior loved one with depression or dementia, reach out to Home Care Assistance, the leading provider of dementia and Alzheimer’s care Milwaukee families trust. Our experienced caregivers are trained to manage the complex symptoms of advanced conditions and can assist with a wide variety of daily activities like grocery shopping, personal grooming, and light housework. Call a friendly Care Manager today at (414) 964-8000 and request a complimentary in-home consultation.