| Tue, Apr 18, 2017 @ 09:00 AM

Is It Depression or Dementia?

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

senior-woman-battling-depressionIf you or a loved one is experiencing lapses of memory, don’t rush to assume that it’s due to dementia. It could be depression.

Depression and dementia share many symptoms. In addition to memory problems, both conditions may be marked by slow speech and low motivation, for example. It can be difficult to tell the two apart.

While certain symptoms of depression and dementia may be similar, there are also some differences that may help distinguish between them.

Symptoms of Depression Symptoms of Dementia
  • Mental decline is relatively rapid
  • Mental decline happens slowly
  • Knows the correct time, date, and where he or she is
  • Confused and disoriented; becomes lost in familiar locations
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty with short-term memory
  • Language and motor skills are slow, but normal
  • Writing, speaking, and motor skills are impaired
  • Notices or worries about memory problems
  • Doesn’t notice memory problems or seem to care

Source: Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly; HelpGuide.org

Depression in Older Adults

It’s worth noting that, in general, the symptoms of depression in older adults and the elderly may be very different from what’s seen in younger people. Older people are more likely to complain about physical ailments than to say they feel sad or hopeless.

“The classic case is a widowed lady who isn’t sleeping well and has lost weight,” Brent Forester, MD, a geriatric psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA says. “And she’s not saying she’s depressed. Her chief complaint is that she’s nervous all the time and worried about her health. Her back hurts; she has headaches and stomach problems.”

Given the sometimes vague symptoms in this population, depression may go unnoticed by families and doctors alike. Yet once recognized, depression can be treated, which may help improve quality of life regardless of what other health issues the person may have—including dementia. It’s not uncommon to see depression and dementia in the same individual. Treating the depression in this situation may bring significant relief for the individual and for caregivers.

Depression Screening

Mental Health Awareness Week is October 6 – 10. As part of this observance, October 9th has been designated National Depression Screening Day. You can take an online screening anonymously as a quick way to see if you may want to talk to your doctor about any mental health related issue. The screening does not diagnose any condition; it is only for your education. Screenings are offered through local organizations, so you’ll be prompted to choose your state and a site to take the screening.

Remember, too, that Medicare covers depression screening once a year. It costs you nothing as long as you get the screening through a primary care provider who accepts Medicare’s payment for the service as payment in full. In addition, Medicare now covers treatment for mental health conditions at the same rate as for all other medical conditions—80% of the Medicare-approved amount.

You don’t have to surrender to losing mental sharpness as a normal sign of aging. It’s not inevitable, so it’s important to see a doctor as soon as cognitive changes are noticed. If it’s depression, treatment may help the individual recover memory, concentration and energy. Treatment for dementia may also help improve quality of life.

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.

Sources: Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly, HelpGuide.org; Alzheimer’s or depression: Could it be both? MayoClinic.org; Depression, NIHSeniorHealth.gov

Resources:

Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly: HelpGuide.org

Late Life Depression Fact Sheet: gmhfonline.org

Depression in Older Persons: NAMI.org

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