Know the Difference Between Dementia and Depression in Seniors

Senior woman looking through the window

Learn the difference between dementia and depression in seniors.

A visit with Mom recently revealed a number of unsettling signs. Even though she’s always been up at the crack of dawn, now it is hard to wake her before lunchtime. Rather than fixing an elaborate home-cooked meal, she prefers to simply warm up a can of soup; and can barely finish a small bowlful. Not only that, but she’s lost interest in spending time with her beloved friends from her book club. Could she be struggling with depression or dementia?

There are a number of similarities between the two, such as:

  • Eating and sleeping pattern changes
  • A lack of interest in formerly enjoyed interests and hobbies, and spending time with others
  • Reduced memory and the ability to focus

There is, however, a notable difference between dementia and depression in seniors. Here are several telltale differences that help discern whether depression or dementia could be at play:


  • A slow, progressive decline in mental functioning
  • Noticeable difficulties with motor and/or language skills
  • Struggles with memory, without being aware of these problems
  • Confusion in knowing the present date, time, and surroundings


  • A more rapid decline in mental functioning
  • Difficulties with concentrating
  • Slightly slower, but still normal motor and language abilities
  • Challenges with memory issues, but being aware of the struggle
  • Consciousness of present date, time and environment

Sometimes, both conditions can affect a person at the same time. Brent Forester, MD, director of the mood disorders division in the geriatric psychiatry research program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA, shares, “40 to 50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease get depression, but depression also may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.”

If you suspect a senior may need help, but you can’t quite tell the difference between dementia and depression, schedule an appointment as soon as possible with his/her doctor. Receiving a correct diagnosis and beginning a treatment plan is imperative.

Help for depression may include an antidepressant as well as therapeutic counseling, or hospitalization if the symptoms are severe and require more in-depth treatment. Dementia care commonly involves medications that help with particular symptoms, including sleep problems, memory loss, or changes in behavior.

If someone you love has been diagnosed with either depression or dementia, or is struggling with any other difficulties of aging in our service area, Advanced Home Health Care has home care assistance in Burlington and the surrounding areas that can help. With our full variety of senior home care services, such as companionship, assistance with meals, running errands, housekeeping, transportation, and personal hygiene care, we’re here for whatever particular needs your loved one is facing. Contact us online or at 800.791.7785 for more information or to schedule a free in-home consultation.

The Care You Need. The Quality You Deserve.