New evidence affirms apathy is an early sign of dementia
A growing body of research is beginning to suggest severe apathy in older adults is an early sign of dementia. New research from the University of California, San Francisco, with support from the National Institute on Aging, is now offering one of the first longitudinal studies to show apathy could be an early visible symptom of cognitive decline.
“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,” says Meredith Bock, corresponding author on the new study. “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 research followed over 2,000 subjects, aged in their 70s, for up to nine years. All subjects had no clinical diagnosis of dementia at the beginning of the study, and following initial evaluation were sorted into low, moderate, or severe apathy groupings. At the end of the study’s follow-up period the researchers found those subjects in the severe apathy group were 80 percent more likely to develop dementia than those in the low apathy group.
In the study, published in the journal Neurology, the researchers hypothesize apathy to be a distinctive indication of the very earliest stages of neurodegeneration. Neuroimaging studies are cited, linking several neurophysiological observations with symptoms of apathy, suggesting apathy is not merely a psychological characteristic in this context but a condition actually caused by certain types of neurodegeneration.
Recent research has effectively linked depression with the onset of dementia, finding depression is actually an early clinical sign of cognitive decline. However, distinguishing apathy from depression has proved valuable in finding more effective ways to detect neurodegeneration in its earliest stages.
“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,” says Bock. “In fact, we believe that apathy may be a very early sign of dementia and it can be evaluated with a brief questionnaire.”
The new study concludes by noting there is plenty more to learn about the neurobiology of apathy, but this burgeoning understanding of the link between apathy and dementia offers clinicians novel ways to identify at-risk patients before major symptoms appear. Apathy may also be a helpful factor to consider when recruiting subjects for prospective dementia-related clinical trials.
The new study was published in the journal Neurology.
Source: American Academy of Neurology