Alzheimer's or depression: Could it be both?

Alzheimer's and depression have some similar symptoms. Proper treatment improves quality of life.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Early Alzheimer's disease and depression share many symptoms, so it can be hard — even for doctors — to distinguish between the disorders. Plus, many people with Alzheimer's disease also are depressed.

Just as treatment is important for people with depression alone, it's equally crucial for people with Alzheimer's disease and depression to get treatment for their depression.

People who have both Alzheimer's and depression may find it easier to cope with the changes caused by Alzheimer's when they feel less depressed.

Similar symptoms

Some of the symptoms common to both Alzheimer's and depression include:

  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities and hobbies
  • Social withdrawal
  • Memory problems
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Impaired concentration

With so much overlap in symptoms, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two disorders, especially since they often occur together. A thorough physical exam and psychological evaluation can be helpful in making a diagnosis.

But, many people with more advanced Alzheimer's disease may not be able to express how they feel.

Signposts for depression

To detect depression in people who have Alzheimer's disease, doctors must rely more heavily on nonverbal cues and caregiver reports than on self-reported symptoms. If a person with Alzheimer's displays one of the first two symptoms in this list, along with at least two of the others within a two-week period, he or she may be depressed.

  • Significantly depressed mood — sad, hopeless, discouraged, tearful
  • Reduced pleasure in or response to social contacts and usual activities
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Agitation or lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
May 28, 2015 See more In-depth