Apathy in People with Dementia
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Apathy in People with Dementia

Apathy is defined as a feeling of disinterest, when you’re lacking the motivation to do anything or care about anything around you. While it can be caused by something as simple as a case of the blahs, it can also be a sign of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other more serious mental or emotional health conditions.

            When adults are afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, they often lose motivation for daily activities and interest in pursuing activities they used to enjoy, a state known as anhedonia. They may seem to be uninterested in their environment, and fail to respond in expected ways to different situations, whether emotionally or behaviorally. They may also display indifference when meeting new people or trying new things. When a number of these symptoms are experienced concurrently, it can be clinically diagnosed as apathy by a professional. Not only does apathy significantly affect the quality of life for the person who is affected with it, but for the people caring for them, it can increase their stress.

            Evidence indicated that apathy is more common in older adults with cognitive decline. Initial signs and symptoms include

  • Lack of interest, motivation or passion
  • Lack of appropriate or expected emotional responses, disinterest in relationships
  • Low levels of energy, negatively affecting the ability to complete daily activities.
  • Hesitation to act
  • Indifference to things that usually inspired curiosity or interest
  • Lack of interest in new things
  • Self isolation

Older adults who have apathy tend to spend more of their time alone, which causes them to alter their personal relationships and their ability to carry out the necessary daily tasks of living.

            Apathy is associated with brain changes, and often occurs in the early stages of dementia, then persists as the disease progresses through the more advanced stages. Clinicians have found that it is one of the most common symptoms in people with dementia, affecting about 50-70% of those diagnosed with it. It is far more common in those with dementia than it is with people aging healthily, suggesting that it can be an early sign of dementia.

            Apathy has a physical impact beyond the more obvious social and behavioral ones. Consider that the lack of activity might cause a decrease in strength, balance, and bone density, leading to an increased risk of falls. It could also cause seniors to become malnourished.

            While depression and apathy may appear superficially similar, they are not the same. Apathy can be a facet of depression, but the two conditions are separate diagnoses. A person suffering from apathy has difficulty taking action on behalf of themselves or others. They can feel indifferent to their environments, and fail to respond to what is happening around them. Even when this is the case, there is no sadness present in their emotional state. In depression, the loss of interest is a result of sadness.

            People with apathy are passive, unable to worry about their health and never complaining. They show a flat affect without emotional responses. Depressed people feel sad, hopeless, and guilty.