Never assume that a loss of mental sharpness is just a normal sign of old age. It could be a sign of either depression or dementia. Both are common in older adults and the elderly. Since depression and dementia share many similar symptoms, including memory problems, sluggish speech and movements, and low motivation, it can be difficult to tell the two apart. There are, however, some differences that can help you distinguish between the two.
Depression or Dementia?
Symptoms of Depression
Symptoms of Dementia
|Mental decline is relatively rapid||Mental decline happens slowly|
|Knows the correct time, date, and where he or she is||Confused and disoriented; becomes lost in familiar locations|
|Difficulty concentrating||Difficulty with short-term memory|
|Language and motor skills are slow, but normal||Writing, speaking, and motor skills are impaired|
|Notices or worries about memory problems||Doesn’tnotice memory problems or seem to care|
Whether cognitive decline is caused by dementia or depression, it’s important to see a doctor right away. If it’s depression, memory, concentration, and energy will bounce back with treatment. Treatment for dementia will also improve you or your loved one’s quality of life. And in some types of dementia, symptoms can be reversed, halted, or slowed.
Here are some self-help tips on dealing with depression for older adults and the elderly living in home health settings and independently.
You can’t beat depression through sheer willpower, but you do have some control—even if your depression is severe and stubbornly persistent. If you’re depressed, you may not want to do anything or see anybody. But isolation and inactivity only make depression worse. The more active you are—physically, mentally, and socially—the better you’ll feel.
- Exercise. Physical activity has powerful mood-boosting effects. In fact, research suggests it may be just as effective as antidepressants in relieving depression. The best part is that the benefits come without side effects. You don’t have to hit the gym to reap the rewards. Look for small ways you can add more movement to your day: park farther from the store, take the stairs, do light housework, or enjoy a short walk. Even if you’re ill, frail, or disabled, there are many safe exercises you can do to build your strength and boost your mood—even from a chair or wheelchair.
- Connect with others, face to face whenever possible. Getting the support you need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. You may not feel like reaching out, but make an effort to connect to others and limit the time you’re alone. If you can’t get out to socialize, invite loved ones to visit you, or keep in touch over the phone or email. And remember, it’s never too late to build new friendships. Start by joining a support group for depression, a book club, or another group of people with similar interests.
- Create life balance. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and the pressures of daily life, it may be time to learn new emotional management and emotional intelligence skills. Watch the short video clip and consider following Helpguide’s free Bring Your Life Into Balance toolkit.
Other self-help tips to combat and prevent depression in older adults
- Get enough sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your depression symptoms can be worse. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid eating too much sugar and junk food. Choose healthy foods that provide nourishment and energy, and take a daily multivitamin.
- Participate in activities you enjoy. Pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes bring or used to bring you joy.
- Volunteer your time. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.
- Take care of a pet. A pet can keep you company, and walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and a great way to meet people.
- Learn a new skill. Pick something that you’ve always wanted to learn, or that sparks your imagination and creativity.
- Create opportunities to laugh. Laughter provides a mood boost, so swap humorous stories and jokes with your loved ones, watch a comedy, or read a funny book.
Information Resource: helpguide.org