A new report has identified apathy as a key symptom of dementia. It seems to me though that a certain amount of apathy is an inevitable part of ageing.
I wrote only a couple of days ago that I was working on bringing a bit more Spanish manana into my life. In my blog about the excellent Lionel Shriver book ‘The Motion of the Body Through Space’ I quoted this passage:
“She advanced toward the apathy with open arms. ….. The best thing about getting old was basking in this great big not-giving-a-shit… Aging was proving one long holiday. She was harmless – although she’d be the first to agree that she and her heedless ilk should probably be denied the vote. The future didn’t need her, and she didn’t need it. Others behind would discover it soon enough: the bliss of sublime indifference.”
The report, based on research led by the University of Exeter, concludes that apathy is the most common neuropsychiatric symptom of dementia, with a bigger impact on function than memory loss.
It also found that apathy is present in nearly half of all people with dementia, with researchers finding it is often distinct from depression.
Although common, apathy is often ignored as it is less disruptive in settings such as care homes than symptoms like aggression. Defined by a loss of interest and emotions, it is extremely distressing for families and linked with more severe dementia and worse clinical symptoms.
The research which was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles analysed 4,320 people with the disease from 20 studies, to look at the prevalence of apathy over time.
At the start of the study, 45% presented with apathy, and 20% had persistent apathy over time. Researchers found that a proportion had apathy without depression, which suggests that the symptom might have its own unique clinical and biological profile when compared to apathy with depression and depression only.
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.”
I’m wondering what comes first, the onset of dementia leading to apathy or the onset of apathy leading to dementia.
If it’s the latter maybe I need to stop trying to be relaxed and start giving a shit!