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Apathy could lead to increased risk of dementia, study finds

A new study says that apathy, a decrease in motivation and goal-directed behavior, in older adults could lead to an increased risk of developing dementia.
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Published: Oct. 14, 2020 at 9:13 PM EDT
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(WVLT/CNN) - A new study says that apathy, a decrease in motivation and goal-directed behavior, in older adults could lead to an increased risk of developing dementia.

The study was published Wednesday by researchers with the University of California, San Francisco in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, according to CNN.

“Apathy can be very distressing for a family member, when people no longer want to get together with family or friends or don’t seem interested in what they used to enjoy,” said Dr. Meredith Bock, a clinical fellow at the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, in a news release.

CNN reported that the team found people with severe levels of apathy were 80 percent more likely to develop dementia than those with low levels of apathy after adjusting for age, education and other risk factors.

“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,” Bock said. “In fact, we believe that apathy may be a very early sign of dementia, and it can be evaluated with a brief questionnaire.”

The research could signify that scientists and medical professionals are offering treatment too late in the course of dementia, Bock said, because the study’s results indicate that apathy is a characteristic of an early stage of dementia. Bock said in that stage, the person remains fully functional, and the early effects of dementia can’t be detected through interviews or testing.

CNN reported that the research team analyzed data from more than 2,000 adults from a cohort of the Health, Aging and Body Composition study. The group’s average age was 74, and each person began the study without a dementia diagnosis. It looked at Medicare-eligible adults aged 70 to 79 and included a roughly equal amount of Black and white subjects over a decade.

Just under 19% of participants had developed dementia by the end of the study. That includes 14% in the low apathy group, 19% in the moderate apathy group and 25% in the severe apathy group.

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