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"How can one distinguish between Alzheimer's and depression?"
My father is over 80 and has the blunted affect that is typical of depression, but he is also in late-stage Alzheimer's disease. Are there possibly tests that we could run to distinguish between the two? I want him to be treated for depression, too, if he has that.
Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative brain condition which is the leading cause of dementia in the world. The condition leads to the progressive loss of cognitive function, coupled to profound social impairment. There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Because there is no cure, it is very important to make sure that there is not a coexisting condition which is amenable to treatment. For example, depression can coexist with Alzheimer's. Also other medical causes of depressive symptoms and withdrawal, such as vitamin deficiencies or low thyroid hormone levels, may be contributing. Therefore, every patient with Alzheimer's disease needs a good medical work up to exclude these causes and potentially evaluation by a psychiatrist for treatment of coexisting depression. As always the diagnosis and the management of your father's particular concerns will require a physical examination by his personal physician. Setting up an office visit with your father's primary care doctor is highly recommended.
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