Pseudodementia is a psychiatric condition that appears to mimic symptoms of dementia but does not have its root in neurological degeneration.
This condition is sometimes called depressive pseudodementia, as the symptoms often stem from mood-related conditions such as depression.
Pseudodementia and dementia can be difficult to distinguish.
People experience changes in cognition and brain function as they age, so separating normal age-related changes versus early signs of depression or dementia can prove problematic.
Additionally, it is very possible for an individual to have true dementia and suffer from depression at the same time. Thus, diagnosing pseudodementia can take time as a thorough round of tests and evaluations are needed to ascertain a diagnosis.
The primary symptoms of pseudodementia include speech and language difficulties, lapses or losses in memory, attention deficits, problems with organizing and planning, and trouble with regulating emotions.
Because these symptoms are very common in those with dementia, a doctor may diagnose and treat these individuals as though they have dementia.
Yet, because pseudodementia often has a link to depression, individuals also may experience symptoms that include a loss of interest in activities, a depressed mood that lasts for weeks at a time, social withdrawal, insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite or overeating, and even suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
Mood-related conditions such as depression are potential causes and the most common for pseudodementia.
Many doctors will not consider pseudodementia until they have entirely ruled out dementia and other possible causes of the symptoms. In older adults, particularly, depression may cause significant cognitive impairment that can lead to consideration of a diagnosis of pseudodementia.
Though it is most commonly associated with depression, other mental health conditions, like schizophrenia or dissociative disorder, can cause similar symptoms and should be evaluated.
Once diagnosed with pseudodementia, treatment can take a long time as an individual’s response to treatment is evaluated and adjustments made.
In many cases, this involves treating the depression that led to the symptoms, and treatment typically involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Medications for depression, such as antidepressants, may reduce symptoms. Cognitive behavior and interpersonal therapies may also help improve the symptoms and treat the underlying cause.
Though individuals with depression may respond well to treatment, cognitive impairment may linger but may also return over time.