Elderly Depression vs. Dementia: What’s the Difference?

More than two million of the 34 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some form of depression. For senior citizens, a loss of mental sharpness could be a sign of either elderly depression or dementia, both of which are common in older adults and the elderly. So how do you tell the difference?

Elderly depression is a mood disorder that causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, such as memory loss. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.

Since geriatric depression and dementia share many similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the two apart. Here are some guidelines for figuring out the difference between elderly depression and dementia.

Response: People suffering from geriatric depression notice and are worried about their memory problems. Those with dementia are unconcerned with or in denial about their symptoms.
Mood: People with elderly depression have a pervasively sad mood. People who have dementia are in a normal mood most of the time, and their mood often brightens with stimulation and support.
Memory: People with geriatric depression have difficulty concentrating and may even suffer occasional memory lapses. People with Alzheimer’s disease have trouble with short-term memory and storing new information, such as the recent visit of a close relative or what they ate for dinner.
Language and motor skills: Depressed people have normal language and motor skills, although they may speak slowly at times. People with dementia often experience apraxia – trouble remembering how to perform previously learned and routine motor activities.

Whether you’re concerned about a loved one or your own cognitive decline, regardless of the cause, it’s important to see a doctor right away. If depression is the problem, memory, concentration, and energy will bounce back with treatment. Even in some types of dementia, symptoms can be reversed, halted, or slowed. If someone you know suffers from elderly depression or dementia, offer to go with him or her to see a health care provider to be diagnosed and treated.

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