As caregivers who provide senior home care, we are familiar with the problems of depression and dementia in our elderly clients. In fact, the symptoms of these two conditions can be quite similar and include problems with memory, speech, movements, and motivation. While at times it can be difficult to tell the two apart, the differences are important. Depending on the cause of the symptom, both medical treatments and how caregivers work with older clients may change.

The differences that distinguish the two are:

While depression and dementia are two distinct disorders, recent research suggests that in some older adults, the two conditions may be closely linked, with one disorder contributing to the development of the other. In the May 1, 2013 issue of the NY Times, Judith Graham, in her weekly column “The New Old Age”, wrote “Does Depression Contribute to Dementia?” In her column, she looked at a study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, which followed nearly 50,000 older adults over a five-year period.

“We can’t say that late-life depression causes dementia, but we can say it likely contributes to it,” said Meryl Butters, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a co-author of the report. “We think depression is toxic to the brain, and if you’re walking around with some mild brain damage, it will add to the degenerative process. The data suggests that 36 of every 50 older adults with late-life depression may go on to develop vascular dementia, while 31 of every 50 seniors with a history of depression may eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.”

Today researchers are pursuing several related questions, including whether “identifying depression early and treating it can lower the risk of dementia.”

Ultimately there are a number of scenarios that could explain the depression – dementia connection. Depression could be: (1) an early symptom of dementia; (2) a psychological reaction to early, mild cognitive loss, or (3) a true risk factor for dementia (meaning that depression causes physical changes that makes it more likely that s/he will develop progressive dementia later in life.

If an elderly person with dementia starts behaving in an unusual way, or has deteriorated more rapidly than expected, this could be a symptom of depression or anxiety, or it could be due to an illness or side-effect of medication. People with dementia may have difficulty communicating their low mood or anxiety and may sometimes be wrongly diagnosed with depression, and vice versa.

Regardless of the cause, there are good reasons to try and reverse depression in the elderly. Senior home care Caregiver tips for helping an older depressed individual include:

· As much as possible, help the senior keep their body and mind active.
· Schedule social activities to help combat isolation and loneliness.
· Plan and prepare healthy meals.
· Make sure all medications are taken as instructed.


photo courtesy: Grandmother via photopin (license)