When in doubt, consult doctor about signs of depression

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"I need one of those long hugs where you kinda forget whatever else is happening around you for minute." - Unknown

Is it Alzheimer's or depression?

Living with depression makes for a difficult life. Depression is very real, but often it is difficult for doctors to diagnose. Early Alzheimer's disease and depression share many symptoms.

In addition, many people with Alzheimer's suffer from depression. Some of the similar symptoms are:

• 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 through physical exam and psychological evaluation can be helpful in making a diagnosis.

But most people with more advanced Alzheimer's disease might not be able to express how they feel.

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. Some of these might include:

• 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

People with Alzheimer's may experience depression differently from people without Alzheimer's. For example, individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease:

• Might have symptoms of depression that are less severe

• Might experience episodes of depression that don't last as long or come back as frequently

• Seem less likely to talk of suicide or attempt it

Depression can have a strong effect on quality of life for people with Alzheimer's disease. It can lead to worsening cognitive decline and increased dependence on caregivers.

Some of the treatments that can be used include antidepressants, physical exercise, support groups and counseling, and decreased social isolation.

Getting a proper diagnosis of depression for your loved one who has Alzheimer's can help make life easier for all involved.

Karen Doughtie is senior program director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org; mymemorymatters.org

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