Thursday, January 5, 2023

Why depression can be mistaken for dementia

It’s reasonably well known that dementia mainly affects the elderly population (although early onset dementia is absolutely a thing) but one condition that often gets overlooked is that of depression in the elderly. 

Depression and dementia are two very different conditions, yet they share similar symptoms. This can lead to misdiagnosis, particularly in elderly patients, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. It is important to differentiate depression from dementia as they require different treatments and management.

Depression is a mental health condition that can cause a variety of symptoms, including 

  • low mood

  • loss of interest in activities

  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness

  • fatigue or loss of energy

  • difficulty concentrating

  • changes in appetite or weight

  • sleep disturbances 

  • suicidal thoughts/ negative thinking patterns

These symptoms can be mistaken for dementia due to their similarity. For example, difficulty concentrating can look like memory loss, and changes in appetite or weight may be mistaken for difficulty with day-to-day tasks.

Dementia by contrast, is a progressive degenerative condition that affects memory and cognitive function. Dementia is an umbrella term which encompasses various conditions; for example, Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia though there are others such as, Vascular Dementia. Common symptoms of dementia include:

  • memory loss

  • difficulty with problem solving or planning

  • difficulty with communication or language

  • confusion about time and place

  • loss of reasoning or judgment

  • impairment in visual perception

  • changes in mood or behaviour and difficulty with day-to-day tasks. 

When you look at the symptoms side by side, you can see why the two disorders could be misidentified, particularly if one is unfortunate enough to develop early onset dementia which can appear as early as 30’s/40’s (though this is rare). The misdiagnosis is important due to the need for differing treatments/ management for each disorder. For example, the incorrect diagnosis of depression rather than dementia prevents the development of a preventative treatment plan for irreversible dementia. Furthermore, the misdiagnosis of irreversible dementia rather than a treatable psychiatric disorder such as depression prevents them from accessing the correct treatment and an improved quality of life. If you suspect you or a loved one may have either condition, it is important to consult medical professionals for proper diagnosis.


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