The Link Between Depression and Dementia

More than 60 percent of people with dementia are also diagnosed with depression. There’s a lot of overlap in the symptoms between these two conditions, and some studies indicate that depression could even speed up the brain’s aging

Scientists and clinicians believe understanding this dementia-depression link could help treat both diseases.


Is it dementia or depression? Or both?

Depression is a common mood disorder that can make people feel persistently sad or hopeless, extremely fatigued, and cause them to lose joy in everyday activities they once found exciting. It can also have an impact on cognitive function.

As many as three in five people diagnosed with depression will also experience memory loss or other problems with learning new information, remembering things, or staying focused. People with these additional depression symptoms will have problems remembering directions, putting names to new faces, and carrying out more complex tasks which involve some planning. 

That sounds a bit like the early stages of dementia, doesn’t it? Unsurprisingly, many people with depression are mistakenly diagnosed with dementia — and on the flip side, many people living with dementia are also mistakenly diagnosed with depression.

Sometimes doctors have a hard time determining whether cognitive symptoms are caused by depression or dementia. But it’s not uncommon for these conditions to co-exist either — as three in five people with dementia also have depression.

What do depression and dementia have in common?

Around 6.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia according to a 2023 report from the Alzheimer’s Association. Meanwhile, according to a 2020 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.4% of U.S. adults — nearly one in five — said they’ve been diagnosed with depression at some point.

Since both diseases occur so often, figuring out just how they’re related — and whether similar processes in the brain are driving them — is difficult. There are, however, many shared risk factors that provide scientists with clues.

Studies have found that both depression and dementia are more likely to affect women. Both diseases also involve dysfunction in the brain’s immune system

There is even overlap in clinical trials, where researchers are looking at the effectiveness of depression treatments for some symptoms of dementia. A recent analysis found that the antidepressant drug fluoxetine may show promise in improving cognitive symptoms in Alzheimer’s.

And, both dementia and depression are treatable — but to varying extents.

Treating dementia and depression

One big difference between these two diseases is that depression is easier to treat. 

While trying different medications and therapists may take one to two years, many people do go into remission. Treating depression may even have a protective effect on the brain.

Speaking with a doctor and getting the correct diagnosis is essential for treatment. Some older adults diagnosed with depression could experience more cognitive impairment when treated with some, but not all, antidepressants, while others could lower the risk of developing dementia

On the other hand, there is currently only one fully FDA-approved disease-modifying treatment approved for Alzheimer’s — Biogen and Eisai’s drug Leqembi — but clinicians can only prescribe it to people in the very earliest stages of this one specific form of dementia. 

Because they are each growing more prevalent, depression and dementia may be two of the most challenging medical issues that we face in the coming decades. However, learning what these two diseases have in common could help us treat both.


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Melissa Belardo, APRN

Clinical Investigator

Melissa Belardo, is a certified family nurse practitioner (FNP-BC), joins K2 Medical Research with more than a decade of clinical experience. She has served as an investigator in over 20 trials. Prior to clinical research, she held roles in gastroenterology, hepatology, and nurse education.

Melissa’s academic background includes a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Adventist University, followed by a master’s degree in Family Nurse Practitioner from Georgetown University.

Melissa is a native of the US Virgin Islands’ and is fluent in both English and Spanish; Melissa has lived in central Florida for the past twenty years. When she’s not at work, you can find her volunteering at her local church and spending time with family.