Apathy an important early warning sign of dementia

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Don’t care about COVID-19 news any more? Not interested in seeing your friends and family? Feeling disinterested in the state of the world?

You could be at risk of developing dementia.

A new study published last week in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology revealed that older people with severe apathy and a general lack of interest may be more likely to develop dementia than those who care.

“Apathy can be very distressing for family members, when people no longer want to get together with family or friends or don’t seem interested in what they used to enjoy,” said study author Meredith Bock.

“More research is needed, but it’s possible that these are signs that people may be at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and could benefit from early interventions and efforts to reduce other risk factors.”

The study involved 2018 adults with an average age of 74, none of whom had dementia at the outset.

University of California researchers measured apathy by analysing the answers to questions about general interest levels in everyday activities.

Participants had to answer such questions as, “In the past four weeks, how often have you been interested in leaving your home and going out?” and “In the past four weeks, how often have you been interested in doing your usual activities?”

The participants were then put into three groups based on their levels of apathy and were monitored for nine years.

After nine years, 381 participants (19 per cent) had developed dementia.

Around 14 per cent of the low apathy group developed dementia; as did 19 per cent of the moderate apathy group.

Twenty-five per cent of the severe apathy group developed dementia, meaning people with severe apathy were 80 per cent more likely to develop dementia than people with low apathy – even after accounting for age, education, cardiovascular risk factors and other factors that could affect dementia risk.

And while the results of the study were disturbing enough, the researchers also revealed that people with greater apathy levels had worse cognitive scores than those who cared more.

“While depression has been studied more extensively as a predictor of dementia, our study adds to the research showing that apathy also deserves attention as an independent predictor of the disease,” said Ms Bock.

“In fact, we believe that apathy may be a very early sign of dementia and it can be evaluated with a brief questionnaire.”

Apathy has long been known to hinder relationships and enjoyment of life.

And while everybody experiences apathy from time to time, it can also be a symptom of other neurological and psychiatric disorders and can be more serious if you have a chronic condition that is left untreated.

Signs of apathy include having trouble completing daily activities, experiencing low energy levels, diminished emotions, lack of motivation, or having little or no interest in activities that once would have interested you.

You may also be disregarding personal issues or hygiene or exhibiting a lack of effort, planning and emotional response.

Apathy is not the same as depression, although it can be a symptom of depression.

Apathy and depression are recognised as important early warning signs of dementia, however some studies suggest that apathy may be responsible for more dementia cases than first thought.

Scientists from the universities of Cambridge, King’s College London, Radboud and Oxford examined the relationships between apathy, depression and dementia and found that participants with higher baseline apathy, as well as those with increasing apathy over time, had a greater risk of dementia.

They also found that baseline depression or changes in depression levels had little influence on dementia risk.

“There has been a lot of conflicting research on the association between late life depression and dementia,” said study lead author Jonathan Tay.

“Our study suggests that may partially be due to common clinical depression scales not distinguishing between depression and apathy.

“Continued monitoring of apathy may be used to assess changes in dementia risk and inform diagnosis. Individuals identified as having high apathy, or increasing apathy over time, could be sent for more detailed clinical examinations, or be recommended for treatment.”

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 18
  1. 0

    So 104 days of dictator Dan and you ask if we have apathy.
    Our aged group, if we are lucky enough not to be imprisoned in a nursing home has been very cautious of where we go and what we do. Not since COVID but since the bushfires when the air was so smoke filled it cruelled the lungs.
    I would imagine those with the beginnings of dementia would be finding its magnifying itself this year. The connection between thought and word is limited to just a few words a day. The opportunity to laugh and feel loved is missing from so many people’s lives.
    The ability to hold a new born grandchild in our arms or to farewell a life long friend with your mates – gone. And you ask about apathy.
    You sign into to zoom and listen to a happy family who want to keep their distance just in case and you see a reflection of a tired sad face in the corner and you realise why they probably don’t want to look at that image close up either.
    You’ve gone through every hobby, rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic passed by mothers and fathers day, Easter and birthdays and that idiot on TV talks about Christmas and the fact you should be buying something for people who have virtually forgotten you exist.
    You want apathy – I call it depression, anger and loneliness. If it causes dementia then at least one would have the privilege of not remembering in the morning.

    • 0

      I’m sorry to hear this Rosret. I live in Qld and am happy with the work our Premier and Chief Medical Officer have done to keep us safe. Apart from the brief period when we were all in lockdown, and the postponing of some events life has gone on as normal. Until your post, I didnt fully realise how hard it must be for Victorians at the moment.

    • 0

      Not Victorian -we are the sandwich State. Your premier is part of the problem.

    • 0

      Quite obviously you are not a business person, shop owner, retailer etc. I am so sick of hearing the rubbish about ‘our Premier’ and that other silly old witch ‘keeping us safe’ ask all these people who have gone bankrupt, lost their jobs etc. You are so thoughtless and blind. Get a life.

    • 0

      Mogo – NSW’s businesses are operating. QLD had the ability to use hotspot and contact tracing just like NSW. The only thing stopping QLD progressing is their closed borders and fear. And to say I am selfish when the only reference I made was on humanitarian grounds I seriously wonder if your comment is politically based or just plain rude.

    • 0

      I got a bit flummoxed as well, Rosret. Moho were you answering Sunday’s or Rosret? Whichever post you were answering, Mogo, we’re all entitled to our opinions even if they differ from yours.

    • 0

      Mogo 51. Do you actually live in Qld? I have just had a road trip north and accommodation bookings are all full. Likewise restaurants and cafes who are hiring more staff. Our Local tradies have never been busier. Yes, some industries eg those supporting the airline industry and small retail are suffering but that is nationwide. WA and Tasmania have closed borders but we don’t hear much criticism of these Liberal states. Remember, this is a global pandemic and the recession will likely be long and painful even after all our borders are open

  2. 0

    after years of fighting and battling i am giving up i have achieved little if anything and those who could didn’t most of the time I have been a lone voice.

  3. 0

    I live in NSW, I feel we are living in the ‘lucky state’.
    Common sense has to the most part prevailed.
    In stark contrast to the ‘state’ that thinks it’s a country with its own sovereign ie. the speak of ‘Citizens of Qld’..direct quote from Qld’s Chief Health Officer..what the??? and then you’ve got the incompetencey, buck passing and pretence of control from ‘Dictator Dan’. My Goodness give us a break, NSW initially had mistakes made but learned from them and acted accordingly. In a pandemic I sometimes wish that the PM could step in and take over ‘All’ of Australia. After living 60 years I have never seen such division and inequalities of ‘Australian Citizens’ take note Qld HO…no such thing as a Qld Citizen, unless of course there is now Qld Passports being issued? Australian Welfare is the responsibility of our elected Federal Government, not of State Premiers. I feel like I’m getting depression from watching egotists and incompetents running our States.

    • 0

      Yes, unfortunately we are forced to vote for a candidate but we are not allowed any choice of which candidate will be endorsed.

    • 0

      I agree with you NFL. How lucky we are.
      I just can’t believe the other States do not understand we are Australian with relatives spread right across the nation.

    • 0

      NFL, how quickly you have forgotten the Ruby Princess debacle. As for Gladys, she is under a cloud at present although she did a great job during the bushfires. What would have happened if that had been left solely up to the Federal Govt. Queenslanders vote at the end of the month, that will be the litmus test.

  4. 0

    Are you kidding me? Luck of interest is showing of dementia? NO is showing we are sick of the bull shit!!!!!!!!

  5. 0

    No SUNDAYS I didn’t forget the Ruby Princess debacle as I mentioned in my post, mistakes were made early in this pandemic when everything was new but lessons were learned, as is evident from NSW death rate compared to our population rate. As far as our Premier having her private matters aired as dirty laundry and being cleared from any wrong doing from ICAC I suggest you stick to criticisms in running states, not poor judgement in her love life. This poor choice hasn’t cost lives, she has done a better job than any premier I can remember in recent history.

    • 0

      NFL, I agree. What Gladys has done in her private life has NO baring oh how she handled/s her everyday job. Yes she made mistakes, haven’t we all in new situations? But she did learn from them which is more than a lot of people can say – in Australia or elsewhere in the world.
      People criticizing should just be glad they don’t live in America or Britain, then they would have something to complain about.
      These are unprecedented times and people should be more tolerant. After all, it is better to be bored, angry, frustrated and have cabin fever than to be dead!

  6. 0

    It’s not that I’m apathetic, it’s just that I don’t care

    • 0

      Agreed, I can’t believe how we are being manipulated by the media, the wool pulled over our faces. I’ve tuned out, enjoying the simple things of life again like sunshine, a walk in the forest, connecting with loved ones in person etc. It’s going to be impossible to ever find out the full truth behind this covid19, but it’s like a spy thriller, I wonder where it will all lead to. My common sense has the conspiracy crowd slightly ahead of those swallowing the mainstream narrative.



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