Researchers have long known there is a link between depression and dementia.

Depression often accompanies depression, with experts saying that as many as 30 percent of those with dementia also suffer from depression. The rates in nursing homes are likely to be even higher.

According to Dementia Australia, dementia can actually contribute to depression, through the “slow erosion of confidence and self-esteem” as a person’s ability to manage their physical and social environment is affected.

For those living with dementia, depression can greatly reduce quality of life.

For that reason, getting a correct diagnosis of dementia is vitally important for people living with dementia. Treating the depression can have huge benefits for their enjoyment of life – as well as benefits for caregivers.

But getting a correct diagnosis is not always easy because many others conditions – such as sleep disturbances and some cancers – have similar symptoms to depression, thereby sometimes confusing a diagnosis.

Symptoms of depression and dementia can overlap

Depression and dementia themselves also have similar symptoms, which can make diagnosis difficult.

A spokesperson for Dementia Australia told HelloCare, “Dementia and depression can occur separately or together. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between them because the signs and symptoms can overlap.”

According to Dementia Australia, there are many symptoms common to both dementia and depression, which can lead to an incorrect diagnosis in an older person. These common symptoms include:

• impaired ability to think and concentrate

• memory disturbance

• diminished motivation

• mood changes

Obtaining a diagnosis

If a person or someone close to them is concerned about their loved one because they are experiencing the above symptoms, Dementia Australia recommends they talk to a doctor to ensure that a correct diagnosis is made.

“It will be helpful if the symptoms that have led to their concern can be clearly described,” said the spokesperson for Dementia Australia.

“Key indicators of depression are changes in mood (including agitation, anxiety and sadness) and fluctuations in weight and sleep patterns.”

It’s essential to get a correct diagnosis, because the treatments for depression and dementia are different. In order to work out which is the most suitable treatment, it’s important to understand the cause of the depression.

“Dementia and depression are different conditions requiring different responses and treatment.”

If dementia is diagnosed incorrectly, a person who is living with depression may not receive the support and treatment they need to recover.

Likewise, an incorrect diagnosis of dementia as depression may lead to inappropriate treatment and unrealistic expectations of improvement.

Dementia Australia recommends the two main treatments for depression are medication and ‘talking therapies’ such as counselling, cognitive therapy and behavioural interventions.

What can you do if you’re concerned a loved one with dementia may be experiencing depression?

If you’re concerned that a loved one with dementia is experiencing depression, speak to the person’s doctor as soon as you can.

Take notes of symptoms you’ve observed and try to describe them clearly.

Depression is not a normal part of dementia, it is a treatable condition. By obtaining an accurate diagnosis and receiving the correct treatment, you can significantly improve the individual’s quality of life.

Please note: The image used to illustrate this article does not reflect actual people of events. Image: iStock.

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