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Meredith Gilliam, MD, MPH
Meredith Gilliam, MD Geriatrician and Director of the UNC Geriatrics Clinic

In general, diagnosing depression can be challenging. Since there’s no single, definitive test for diagnosing the condition, it is important to consider other possible reasons behind depression-like symptoms in older adults.

In a recent AARP article, Dr. Meredith Gilliam says, “the symptoms may overlap with chronic medical conditions, early dementia, hearing and vision loss, and medication side effects.” She adds that it takes time and patience for both family members and clinicians to work through what is really happening with their loved one.

Dr. Gilliam highlights ways that dementia could be mistaken for depression. She describes situations where an older person was assumed to be depressed because they began acting uncharacteristically. Maybe they stopped contributing to group conversations, lost interest in activities that required concentration, or stopped engaging in social activities. Yet it eventually became clear that dementia was the cause. Over time, Dr. Gilliam says, “the person’s memory and processing problems became more evident.”

In addition to dementia, read about the other eight conditions which could be mistaken for depression.