Is It Really Alzheimer’s, or Could It Be Something Else?

An older man and his adult daughter talk with the doctor about whether he might have Alzheimer’s or another health condition.
A correct diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or any other condition is critical to identifying an appropriate treatment plan.

You’re beginning to detect some concerning changes in Mom’s condition. You know that some degree of memory decline is to be expected, but it seems to be getting worse. You’re also noticing mood swings that are out of the ordinary, and even some moments of disorientation. Could it be Alzheimer’s? Before anticipating and preparing for a dementia diagnosis, it’s important to know that there’s another condition that presents with similar signs and yet needs to be treated completely differently: depression.

What Are the Similarities Between Alzheimer’s and Depression?

Alzheimer’s disease and depression often intersect in their symptoms, leading to confusion and misdiagnosis. Both can manifest as memory issues, mood swings, and cognitive decline, blurring the lines between the two. However, discerning between Alzheimer’s and depression requires a closer examination of various factors.

The Differences

Alzheimer’s, a progressive neurological disorder, primarily affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It gradually impairs cognitive function, leading to severe memory loss and the inability to perform daily tasks independently. On the other hand, depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.

One key distinction lies in the onset and progression of symptoms. Alzheimer’s symptoms typically develop gradually and worsen over time, while depression symptoms may fluctuate or improve with treatment. Additionally, individuals with depression may retain their cognitive abilities but struggle with motivation and concentration, while Alzheimer’s gradually erodes cognitive functions.

Other differences include:

  • Memory Loss: Loss of memory is a hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s, often involving difficulty recalling recent events or important information. In contrast, memory issues in depression are more likely to involve forgetfulness related to concentration difficulties or negative thoughts rather than a progressive decline.
  • Disorientation and Confusion: These symptoms are also common in both conditions but may manifest differently. In Alzheimer’s, individuals may become disoriented to time, place, and people, while in depression, disorientation may occur due to persistent rumination or a lack of interest in surroundings.
  • Mood and Behavioral Changes: Changes in mood and behavior can further complicate the diagnostic process. While both Alzheimer’s and depression can cause irritability, agitation, and withdrawal, the underlying reasons differ. In Alzheimer’s, these changes are often a result of cognitive decline and confusion. In depression, they stem from feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or hopelessness.
  • Physical Effects: Physical symptoms such as appetite changes, sleep disturbances, and fatigue may also overlap between the two conditions. However, in depression, these symptoms are typically more pronounced and may respond to antidepressant medications and therapy.

Getting a Correct Diagnosis

Navigating the healthcare system to obtain an accurate diagnosis is essential for proper treatment and support. If you suspect Alzheimer’s or depression in a loved one, seek guidance from healthcare professionals specializing in geriatric care or mental health.

Diagnostic tests, including cognitive assessments, imaging scans, and blood tests, can help differentiate between Alzheimer’s and depression. Be sure to discuss symptoms and concerns openly with the doctor, including as many details as possible about each symptom you’re noticing. Keeping a journal to note times of day and any other factors surrounding each sign can be helpful.

Home Care Can Help!

Support networks play a vital role in coping with the challenges of Alzheimer’s and depression. At Abrio Home Care, we’re here to walk alongside you when a loved one struggles with the challenges of either of these conditions, or any other chronic health need.

Whether it’s specialized dementia care, friendly companionship, assistance with housekeeping and meals, or any of our other customized in-home care services, Abrio Home Care is the trusted source for families in Phoenix, Yuma, Mesa, and the surrounding areas. Call us at 877-71-ABRIO to learn more, and visit our Locations page to confirm that our services are available in your area.