Dementia and depression are common in some older adults and the elderly. The two diagnosis share many similar symptoms such as thought and processing delays, excessive sleeping, and lack of motivation and poor personal hygiene. This can make it difficult to tell the two apart, but there are also some significant differences that may help with differentiation.

• Mental decline happens quite quickly with acute depression–typically over a few weeks. Mental decline with dementia happens more slowly and gradually over time–typically over several months or years.
• People with depression knows the correct time, date and where he are or she is, but someone with dementia is oftentimes confused and disoriented to time and place. They become lost in familiar locations.
• Someone with depression usually has difficulty concentrating on tasks. Someone with dementia will still be able to concentrate, but may have more difficulty changing to new ideas or recalling recent events.
• Language and motor skills are usually slowed with depression, but not commonly slowed with dementia until the later stages. A person with dementia may have their writing, speaking, and motor skills impaired depending on the location of the brain that is affected.

Knowing these differences and bringing your loved one to see a doctor for a correct diagnosis and treatment plan is important to your loved one’s quality of life as they age. There are several studies currently going on that are looking at the similarities and any causal relationship between depression and dementia. There is a high incidence of the two diseases being active at the same time in one person. A generalist, neurologist, or dementia-specialist should be able to make a definitive diagnosis for you. Ongoing treatment of the underlying disease is important to maintain and should not be stopped without notifying your physician and asking for the physician’s input.