Dementia vs. Mental Illness

People think of dementia as a mental illness because of the effects the condition has on the brain. However, dementia and mental illness really need to be differentiated in order to properly diagnose an individual. While dementia impacts mental health, it is not a mental illness, but a disorder of the brain that results in memory loss and trouble communicating.

Proper diagnosis of mental illness or dementia in the elderly is absolutely essential in order ensure that the appropriate treatment is provided as soon as possible. Symptoms of mental illness can be so similar to dementia that misdiagnosis of mental illness occurs quite frequently.

Dementia Symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It causes cells in the brain that control memory to die off. It is an irreversible condition that occurs in three million people over the age of 65.

While dementia does affect all individuals differently, the main symptoms of dementia include:

  • Communication Difficulties Dementia patients often have trouble finding the right words or completing sentences. They also mix up words or use them incorrectly.
  • Memory Issues Forgetfulness will begin to occur more often. Sufferers may also have problems remembering how to perform common daily activities like cooking, cleaning and dressing.
  • Frequent Confusion Those with dementia can become confused about what time of day it is, or even what year it is. They can also have a hard time recognizing friends and family members or sometimes believe them to be someone else entirely. Dementia patients may also start regularly losing or misplacing items, even accusing others of stealing their belongings.
  • Changes in Personality and Mood Dementia causes personality changes in individuals, and can affect their moods as well. Those with dementia are often depressed and can experience severe mood swings.

Common Mental Illnesses in the Elderly

When a senior displays signs of mental illness, it’s vital to recognize those symptoms and seek treatment as soon as possible. Some of the common mental illnesses the elderly experience are:

  • Depression Depression is the most common mental disorder among seniors. Social isolation plays a major role in emotional wellness, so when a senior spends long periods alone because they are unable to drive or live far away from friends and family, depression can easily set in. It is also a symptom of dementia and tends to get overlooked as a treatable ailment.
  • Late Onset Bipolar Disorder Bipolar patients tend to be diagnosed in early adulthood. Late onset bipolar can be difficult to diagnose. Its symptoms are  similar to dementia symptoms — agitation, manic behavior and delusions.
  • Late Onset Schizophrenia This disorder is also a diagnostic challenge. It can manifest in adults after age 45 and appears as the patient ages. Symptoms are similar to dementia, once again, with hallucinations and paranoia the most common. The main difference is the symptoms are milder than when this illness appears in younger adults.

Mental illnesses are treatable, but a correct diagnosis is the key. Even if a senior had no mental health issues throughout their entire life, the risk of mental illness in later years is still there. Seek medical treatment as soon as possible if you experience any noticeable changes.