Objective To compare the prevalence of diagnosed depressive disorders, depressive symptoms and use of antidepressant medication between nursing home residents with and without dementia. Methods This cross-sectional study used Minimal Data Set of the Resident Assessment Instrument 2.1 data collected in seven nursing homes located in an urbanized region in the Netherlands. Trained nurse assistants recorded all medical diagnoses made by a medical specialist, including dementia and depressive disorder, and medication use. Depressive symptoms were measured with the Depression Rating Scale. Multivariate logistic regression analysis was used to compare data between residents with and without dementia. Results Included in the study were 1885 nursing home residents (aged 65 years or older), of which 837 had dementia. There was no significant difference in the prevalence of diagnosed depressive disorder between residents with (9.6%) and without dementia (9.8%). Residents with dementia (46.4%) had more depressive symptoms than residents without dementia (22.6%). Among those with depressive symptoms, residents with dementia had the same likelihood of being diagnosed with a depressive disorder as residents without dementia. Among residents with a diagnosed depressive disorder, antidepressant use did not differ significantly between residents with dementia (58.8%) and without dementia (57.3%). The same holds true for residents with depressive symptoms, where antidepressant use was 25.3% in residents with dementia and 24.6% in residents without dementia. Conclusions Regarding the prevalence rates of diagnosed depressive disorder and antidepressant use found in this study, our findings demonstrate that there is room for improvement not only for the detection of depression but also with regard to its treatment. © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.