Apathy in Alzheimer's Disease


Address correspondence to David S. Geldmacher, MD, University Alzheimer Center, Fairhill Center for Aging, 12200 Fairhill Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44120.


Apathy, or loss of motivation, is arguably the most common change in behavior in Alzheimer's disease (AD) but is underrecognized. Apathy represents a form of executive cognitive dysfunction. Patients with apathy suffer from decreased daily function and specific cognitive deficits and rely on families to provide more care, which results in increased stress for families. Apathy is one of the primary syndromes associated with frontal and subcortical pathology, and apathy in AD appears to have multiple neuroanatomical correlates that implicate components of frontal subcortical networks. Despite the profound effects of this common syndrome, only a few instruments have been designed to specifically assess apathy, and these instruments have not been directly compared. Assessment of apathy in AD requires clinicians to distinguish loss of motivation from loss of ability due to cognitive decline. Although apathy may be misdiagnosed as depression because of an overlap in symptoms, current research has shown apathy to be a discrete syndrome. Distinguishing apathy from depression has important treatment implications, because these disorders respond to different interventions. Further research is required to clarify the specific neuroanatomical and neuropsychological correlates of apathy and to determine how correct diagnosis and treatment of apathy may improve patient functioning and ease caregiver burden.