Scientists have found that apathy in people with dementia is ‘often ignored’ in care homes, due to it being less disruptive than other symptoms such as aggression.
The researchers from Exeter University, who carried out the study, analysed 4,320 people with Alzheimer’s from 20 cohort studies, and found apathy is present in nearly half of all people with dementia, with researchers finding it is often distinct from depression.
Apathy is defined by a loss of interest and emotions and can be extremely distressing for families and is linked with more severe dementia and worse clinical symptoms.
Dr Miguel de Silva Vasconcelos, of the University of Exeter and King’s College London, said: “Apathy is an under-researched and often ignored symptom of dementia. It can be overlooked because people with apathy seem less disruptive and less engaging, but it has a huge impact on the quality of life of people living with dementia, and their families.
“Where people withdraw from activities, it can accelerate cognitive decline and we know that there are higher mortality rates in people with apathy. It’s now time this symptom was recognised and prioritised in research and understanding.”
The research which has been presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in LA found 45 per cent presented with apathy, and 20 per cent had persistent apathy over time. Researchers found that a proportion had apathy without depression, suggesting the symptom might have its own unique clinical and biological profile when compared to apathy with depression and depression only.
Professor Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, added: “Apathy is the forgotten symptom of dementia, yet it can have devastating consequences. Our research shows just how common apathy is in people with dementia, and we now need to understand it better so we can find effective new treatments.
"Our WHELD study to improve care home staff training through personalised care and social interaction included an exercise programme that improved apathy, so we know we can make a difference. This is a real opportunity for interventions that could significantly benefit thousands of people with dementia.”