Depression Vs. Dementia


The hardest part of diagnosing mental illnesses is when the external signs of two or more diseases look similar. For example, there are cognitive similarities between depression and dementia, especially in older individuals, so it is easy to mistake the one for the other if you’re unaware of what to look for. Because similar symptoms can arise from disparate causes, and treatment regimens must be designed with those causes in mind, successfully differentiating between depression vs. dementia can mean the difference between a successful treatment and an unsuccessful one.


Among patients with either depression or dementia, cognitive impairment is common. Both diseases can cause pathological lapses in memory. Also, because dementia tends to affect older people, and because one of the differentiating features of depression is the person’s change in mood over time, the lower degree of mood change among the elderly may easily mask the true culprit (depression) with a more emotionally stable facade (dementia).


Language and Motor Skills

One area to look at to decide whether a person is presenting with dementia or depression is the realm of language and motor control. Dementia patients will have serious disabilities which will steadily worsen as time passes. Depressed persons, while they may choose not to engage in cognitive pursuits as a result of the crippling sadness they feel, they nevertheless retain the basic ability to do so.


Behavioral clues will also help determine whether dementia or depression is at work. Depression will cause a person to view everything in a negative light, and act accordingly. The person may mope about, and will be generally pessimistic about almost everything. In contrast, the dementia patient will not be overtly negative, but may simply try to cover up or hide any memory lapses. It is especially common to see memory lapses being covered up in the earliest stages of the disease.


Establishing a firm diagnosis of depression vs. dementia is critical before treatment can begin. Once such a diagnosis has been made, depression is usually treated with medication or therapy or a combination of the two. Depression is generally responsive to such treatment, though it will depend on the severity of the case and other factors.

The efficacy of dementia treatments will depend on the underlying cause of the dementia. If the person is suffering from hydrocephalus or an infection of some sort, taking appropriate steps to clear those up will often cure the dementia. On the other, if the dementia is a symptom of progressive diseases like Alzheimer's, it may be possible to manage some of its symptoms, but not cure it.


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