Pseudodementia is a condition in which a person experiences temporary dementia-like symptoms due to severe depression. The cognitive disorder may also also appear in mania, schizophrenia, dissociative disorders or psychoactive drug use.
Unlike irreversible dementia which has a slow descent into cognitive impairment, pseudodementia comes on fairly quickly. The symptoms are reversible, however, and typically cease once the underlying disorder is treated.
Research has strongly confirmed that patients with depression often suffer with cognitive problems. Depressed people often report having poor concentration, confused thinking, poor memory and a hard time making decisions. Among older patients with depression, about half do poorly on tests of cognition.
In older patients, determining whether their symptoms are a sign of true dementia or pseudodementia is much more difficult, as what may look like dementia may actually be a side product of depression. However, to make things even more difficult, there is also a high prevalence of depression in patients with true dementia, particularly at the onset of the disease.
There are a few notable differences between the two conditions: First, pseudodementia patients often realize they are having trouble with their memory and become quite frustrated during tests of memory. On the other hand, many people with irreversible dementia do not recognize or acknowledge their memory problems even while struggling to give correct answers.
Also, people with pseudodementia tend to score relatively higher in levels of depression, while patients with dementia often show a wide range of emotions, sometimes responding to situations with an inappropriate emotion (such as laughing when others are grim).
A professional diagnosis should be made as soon as possible to distinguish between dementia and pseudodementia so appropriate treatment can begin.
Example: A college professor becomes unable to recall her daily routines. After treatment for depression, her memory recovers completely.