Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is it Dementia or is it Depression?

By Cynthia K. Klinowski, RN, MSN

Was your parent always the life of the party, telling entertaining stories and cracking jokes?  As a parent were they caring, affectionate and supportive?  Did the stories fall away?  Did you stop hearing from them; they weren't interested much in your life anymore?

What has changed?  Depression goes undercover among our older population, yet more than 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 and older are affected by depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Senior depression has many causes, but foremost are retirement, a sense of purpose, the death of a loved one, isolating oneself, financial worries and medical problems.  Heart disease, chronic pain and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and kidney disease, are triggers for depression.  Sometimes, prescription 
A depressed man sitting on a bench
A depressed man sitting on a bench
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
medicines, in particular some pain killers and sedation medications, also trigger depression.

There are many reasons why depression among our seniors may be difficult to spot:  Because of the stigma associated with seeking this kind of (mental health) treatment, depressed people may try to hide their predicament.  Also, the depressive state may cause individuals to isolate themselves from friends and family and keep them from their regular activities.

Detecting depression in seniors also may be tricky because many signs of depression are attributed to the aging process itself:  A lack of energy, loss of appetite, disrupted or less sleep—these are all things we expect as we age.

But they need not occur, and sometimes the result of depression—not age.  There’s a decreased level of energy as we age.  And the elderly sleep less in general, but depression makes it harder for them to get a good night’s sleep.

Learning about people's experiences of dementia
Learning about people's experiences of dementia (Photo credit: The Prime Minister's Office)
Some notable signs of senior depression include irritability, physical complaints and cognitive impairment.  Depression sometimes can mask itself as someone having dementia, but you treat the depression and the normal cognitive function gets back to normal.

This is why anyone who suspects a loved one may be depressed needs to help that individual seek treatment.  Fear of dementia interferes with seeking treatment, but an individual’s loss of cognitive skills may be caused by untreated depression.  Not only is the depression treatable, but some forms of cognitive impairment 
respond well to treatment.

Relationship proves to be the key to detecting depression and getting a loved one to seek medical help.  Get an individual feeling safe, and they may trust you to help them.  It’s really hearing what a person saying and meeting their needs.

While some physical ailments can trigger depression, the depressive state can worsen pre-existing medical conditions.  Statistics show that when depression is treated in the elderly, the outcome of their physical illnesses improve.  Pay attention and seek medical attention to help diagnose Depression or Dementia.

If you find you need an Assisted Living Facility, Nursing Home or any other type of Senior Facility, I hope you will consider       

If you would like to contribute your thoughts and ideas, please leave them in our comment section. We want to hear them. Helping people care for themselves or their loved ones is what we care about. 

We look forward to reading yours.

Cynthia K. Klinowski, RN, MSN, is a co-owner and senior medical officer of several Assisted Living Facilities in Florida and a guest blogger for

Bob Gregory is an advocate for Seniors and is one of the founders of At, we are dedicated to helping families get the Elder Care help they need without having to provide their personal information! If find you need an assisted living facility or other type of senior facility, please consider
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