The Difference Between Grief, Depression and Dementia

Knowing how to tell the difference between depression, grief and dementia can help you make sure that your loved one gets the right treatment. Part of the natural process of aging is coming face to face with loss.

The Connection between Loss, Grief and Depression

As we age, we encounter many types of loss. Some of these losses are:

  • Career. When we stop working, we may feel a loss of identity and purpose.
  • Independence. As we become less capable of managing alone, we lose our independence.
  • Health. Getting older is a blessing and health challenges are part of this blessing.
  • Loved ones. We may lose spouses, friends and other people who we feel close to.
  • Pets. Sometimes, we lose our pets too.

Whatever the loss, we need to acknowledge it is painful and that grieving over the loss in normal and healthy. We need to be aware of the fact that sometimes the feelings of sadness that come with loss can last for a long time. But the intense paid should fade with time.

The Difference between Grief and Depression

Depression and feelings of sadness don’t always go hand-in-hand. In fact, some depressed adults don’t feel sad at all. So telling the two apart isn’t always easy. But there are some ways to tell the difference.

If you are grieving, you’ll feel a wide range of emotions. Some days will be better than others. On the better days, you’ll even have moments of happiness. However, when you are suffering from depression, the feelings of emptiness and despair are constant.

While you can’t put a number to your loss, over time the sadness should slowly feel less overwhelming. However, if the sadness doesn’t slowly let up, and you aren’t interested in things that you used to enjoy doing, you may be depressed.

The Difference between Dementia and Depression

Sometimes, family and caregivers notice a loss of mental sharpness and memory. This isn’t necessarily a normal sign of old age. It could be a sign of either depression or dementia. Here are some pointers to look out for:

  • If you notice a very sudden mental decline, consider depression. Dementia usually happens over time.
  • If your loved one seems disoriented and becomes lost in familiar locations, he may have dementia. Keeping track of the correct time, date, and location despite feelings of sadness is a sign of normal grieving.
  • When a person is grieving, his language and motor skills may be slow, but these skills remain normal. With dementia, you’ll notice that writing, speaking, and motor skills are impaired.
  • If your loved one is troubled by his memory problems, he’s probably grieving. But if he doesn’t notice any memory problems or doesn’t seem to care, you should consider dementia.

Whether cognitive decline is caused by dementia or depression, it’s important to see a doctor right away. If it’s depression, the good news is that memory, concentration, and energy will bounce back with treatment. If it’s dementia, the good news is that the correct treatment can also improve your quality of life. In fact, in some types of dementia, symptoms can be reversed, halted, or slowed.