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Is It Dementia or Mental Illness?

Have you noticed that your senior loved one has been struggling lately? If they’ve been prone to mood swings, are isolating themselves from the outside world, or seemingly can’t communicate the way they used to, it’s natural to be worried about them. But you may not be entirely sure what the underlying condition is behind this concerning behavior. While you know that dementia is a major concern for older adults, mental illness could also explain the situation. Join us as we take an in-depth look at differences between dementia and mental illness to help you find the right kind of support for your loved one. 

A Look at the Symptoms of Dementia 

Dementia, the most common form being Alzheimer’s disease, causes the part of the brain that controls memory to deteriorate. While there is currently no cure for dementia, its symptoms and impact continue to be highly researched by the scientific community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 6.5 million seniors in the country have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. While it affects everyone differently, knowing symptoms of dementia can help you find the right care for your senior loved one. The main symptoms of dementia include: 

  • Confusion: Seniors who have dementia commonly become easily confused. They often have difficulty recognizing friends and family, and they may struggle to to grasp what time or day of the week it is. Another sign of dementia confusion is misplacing  important belongings, such as  a wallet,while having a hard time admitting their own behavior is at fault. As dementia progresses, these moments of confusion can become more frequent. 
  • Memory Issues: Dementia and forgetfulness go hand in hand. If your senior loved one has dementia, the associated memory loss can cause them to forget how to handle  basic activities like cooking or cleaning. These memory loss issues also make it challenging to communicate about the struggles they’re experiencing. If your loved one is having trouble forming sentences or getting words mixed up, it’s a sign they could have dementia. 
  • Personality Changes: Someone with dementia is  likely to go through personality and mood changes. To identify this symptom, you’ll have to pay close attention to their behavior and compare it to their normal demeanor. It’s common for seniors with dementia to become fearful or depressed suddenly, which can spark severe mood swings. 

Mental Illness in Seniors 

Part of what makes mental illness in older adults hard to identify is its similarities to dementia symptoms. For example, one person suffering from depression and another with dementia can both experience personality changes. Let’s take a look at two of the more common mental illnesses in seniors, and how their symptoms can sometimes mimic those of dementia.

  • Depression: Did you know that depression is the most common mental illness in seniors? Social isolation is the leading reason that  older adults feel depressed in retirement. If you’re not sure whether your loved one is struggling with depression or dementia, the key is looking at their memory. While it’s possible for an older adult to have both conditions, someone struggling with a depressed mood won’t tend  to have any issues with their memory. 
  • Bipolar  Disorder: It can be difficult to accurately diagnose an older adult  with bipolar  disorder, since the sudden mood changes are also a symptom of dementia. If your loved one has experienced sudden changes in their mood, it’s best to consult  a professional psychologist. This health care professional will  be able to take a detailed look at this symptom to help you find the right diagnosis. 

Discover Expert Memory Care Near You 

At Heritage Senior Living, we know that dementia and mental illnesses can each have a significant impact on your loved one’s quality of life. Our memory care communities will take the time to get to know your loved one on a personal level, so we can limit the impact that dementia has on their overall well-being. From multisensory rooms that help reduce agitation in memory care residents to an activity calendar filled with meaningful experiences, we’re committed to helping your loved one thrive. Contact us today to learn more about our unique approach to caring for older adults living with dementia. 


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