Is it Alzheimer's or depression?

4 answers | Last updated: Mar 28, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My 80-year-old father is a recent widower, and he's grieving hard over my mom's passing. Lately he also seems more forgetful than usual, and he's losing weight and not socializing much. How can I tell if he's got Alzheimer's or depression?

Expert Answers

Anton P. Porsteinsson is the director of the Alzheimer's Disease Care, Research, and Education Program and the Memory Disorders Clinic at the University of Rochester.

You'll need to take your father to his doctor to help determine which condition he has. The two are different, although they can occur together. Depression is basically defined as a mood disorder. Alzheimer's disease, on the other hand, is a cognitive disorder.

Sadness and a persistent loss of enjoyment or interest in things that used to be enjoyable are two core elements of depression. Because your father is going through a natural period of grieving for your mother, he's at high risk for developing this condition. If his social network has also been limited by family and friends moving away or dying, that adds to the risk.

Your father might experience sleep disturbances, a change in appetite, and a feeling that life isn't worth living. Someone who's depressed might also have impaired attention and concentration, and that may explain your dad's forgetfulness.

You don't mention whether he's also having problems being aware of the time or of his location, or having trouble with reasoning or language. Those would be flags for Alzheimer's disease. Someone who's depressed may not care to drive or pay bills or pay attention to the details of events; someone with Alzheimer's can't do these things.

Both conditions require an evaluation and, usually, some form of treatment.

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Community Answers

Littlesister answered...

Talk to you father. Tell him how concerned you are. Tell him you're grieving too and understand how mournful he is. Since there was such a traumatic event leading to the changes in his behavior, it feels like depression could be the culprit. Yet, no one can confirm that for you other than a doctor. Attend that appointment with him with a list of concerns you have written down, including documentation of the issues concerning you.

Billf answered...

I would have to agree with Anton's answer above, a doctor's visit is probably going to be necessary. I am sorry to hear about your loss and it is understandable that your father would be exhibiting symptoms of depression. But depression and Alzheimer's can be suprisingly similiar.

For more info, check out this article onDepression Vs. Alzheimer's symptoms for more information.

Best of luck,


Mabower answered...

When you take your father in for an assessment, be prepared to answer questions about how he was prior to your mother' death. Alzheimer's doesn't occur overnight. Be honest. Was he getting lost in familiar places, showing poor judgment, having trouble making decisions, losing words, forgetting how to do familiar tasks, etc. BEFORE her passing. Be honest. If you don't know, ask friends and neighbors, people that know him well, if they had noticed any changes in his behavior.

Dementia and depression often go hand in hand, but they require differenct treatment and it is essential that you know what you are dealing with. Good luck in your journey.

Michael A. Bower, ACC Life Enrichment Consultant