Often caregivers are concerned that their loved one with dementia doesn't seem to care about things or has lost interest in daily activities. These symptoms can be a normal progression of dementia and are called apathy.
Apathy can be particularly difficult for caregivers! Those caring for loved ones with symptoms of apathy may find it hard to provide care, and the behavioral changes with apathy can cause caregivers more stress. It is normal for caregivers to get upset or have feelings of frustration when caring for a person with apathy.
A person with apathy may:
Have little emotional response to either good/bad news or life events.
Have Little interest in activities
Appear to have decreased energy
No longer curious about what is happening
Not interested in sharing new ideas or feelings
Not worry about the symptoms they are having
Rely on others to perform activities or make decisions.
Apathy is widespread, experienced in more than 50% of individuals suffering from dementia. Often caregivers may think that their loved one is depressed, or lazy.
The brain is complex; apathy happens due to changes in brain pathways that lead to motivation. These changes are common in dementia or other diseases impacting the brain.
Sometimes the symptoms of apathy start before a person experiences memory problem.
Patients with apathy don't generally worry about their problems compared to those with depression.
Sometimes apathy is confused with depression. However, there are differences between apathy and depression.
Patients with depression are usually sad and don't experience happiness. Those with apathy may appear indifferent or have little to no emotions.
Patients with apathy do experience periods of joy and happiness with some activities.
Patients with depression often have thoughts of guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness, or even want to die.
How is apathy treated?
There really is no known treatment for apathy. Some of the medications we use to treat dementia may be helpful. You can read the GeriAcademy blog post on common dementia treatments.
Recommendations for caregivers
Try to understand your loved one better.
Has your loved one forgotten how to perform a specific task or do the activity? Simple things such as working a television remote, using the microwave, showering, dressing, turning on the water faucet.
Setting up a daily routine, guiding your loved one may be helpful. Once a routine becomes a habit, it is much easier for an apathetic person to start an activity.
Break down tasks into smaller steps to not overwhelm your loved one.
Try different ways of suggesting an activity.
Rather than asking your loved one to do an activity, you can say, "it's time to do ......" If going out for a walk hand your loved one their coat and shoes. If it is time to each, help your loved one to the table, or hand them objects individually to start setting the table.
Do not blame or accuse your loved one of being lazy. Provide support and encouragement.
I hope this blog post is helpful in better understanding apathy and how to better help a loved one. Consider reading other blog posts on GeriAcademy.