According to a study that was published in the online issue of Neurology on October 14, older adults who show no interest in normal activities or have severe apathy have a larger chance of developing dementia as compared to people with fewer apathy symptoms.
Meredith Bock, from the University of California and the author of the study says that apathy is distressing to family members, especially when people do not want to meet up with friends or family or they are no longer interested in what they used to like. She adds that while more research needs to be carried out, it’s possible that these may be early signs of people who are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. She says that these individuals could potentially benefit from early efforts and interventions to reduce other risk factors associated with these diseases.
The study had 2,018 adult participants with the average age being 74. None of the adults in the study had dementia. At the beginning of the study, the researchers used a survey with various questions to measure the apathy levels of the individuals. The questions focused on a 4-week duration and asked the participants if they’d been interested in participating in various activities or leaving their homes to go out. They then divided the participants into three groups i.e. those with severe, low and moderate apathy. Almost a decade later, the researchers then determined which participants had dementia by looking at their hospital records, results on cognitive tests and medication use.
By the study’s end, almost 19% of the participants, which represents 381 people, had dementia. Among the 768 individuals who were grouped in low apathy, 14% of them; 111 people, developed dementia. This, when compared to the 143 individuals who developed dementia from the moderate group seems slightly lower. The moderate group was made up of 742 individuals, 19% of whom developed dementia. 127 participants from the severe apathy group, making up 25% of the 508 people in the group developed dementia.
The researchers then adjusted for education, age, cardiovascular risk factors and other additional factors that may affect dementia risk and discovered that individuals with severe apathy were 80% more likely to develop dementia as compared to those with low apathy. It should be noted that at the beginning of the study, greater apathy was associated with worse cognitive scores.
The only limitation of the study was that they used an algorithm to diagnose dementia. This may not be as in-depth as an evaluation done by a doctor.
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