Apathy a sign of Alzheimer’s

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.”

Have you noticed yourself caring less lately?

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