Apathy & Lewy Body Dementia

Everyone diagnosed with Lewy body dementia exhibits slightly different symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. One of the more common of these symptoms is apathy, along with other mood and behavioral changes, including depression, anxiety, agitation, and aggression. These symptoms are often distressing for loved ones and are among the most difficult-to-treat aspects of Lewy body dementia.

Today, we want to share more information about apathy and LBD, as well as offer helpful care giving tips from Dr. Deepal Shah-Zamora, MD.

What is Apathy?

Apathy is the lack of motivation for goal-directed behaviors. More simply put, it is a lack of enthusiasm. For example, people with apathy may rely on others to suggest, initiate or organize activities. They may be reluctant to try new things or meet new people, or they may seem detached.

Apathy is a symptom of damaged pathways in the frontal lobes of the brain. Based on the description above, apathy may seem like depression, but it is different.

According to one study, 80 percent of people with LBD experience apathy. This symptom can lead to:

  • Decreased quality of life
  • Increased rate of disease progression
  • Increased mortality
  • Earlier nursing home admissions
  • Increased care partner stress

Treatment for Apathy in Lewy Body Dementia

Unfortunately, few effective treatment options exist for apathy. Most studies suggest that medications under the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (AChEI) category are most effective for treating people with LBD and apathy. Examples of such medications include donepezil and rivastigmine. Non-drug treatment options such as music or art therapy may also be quite effective in reducing apathy.

Caring for Someone with LBD and Apathy

Being a care partner for someone with apathy can be a tremendous challenge. However, it is important to remember that apathy is a symptom of LBD—it is not your loved one purposely being lazy or giving up.

Try these tips to support someone with LBD and apathy:

  • Help your loved one find new hobbies if their old ones are no longer enjoyable for them.
  • Avoid using open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking, “What do you want to do today?” ask more specifically, “Which sweater do you want to wear on our walk this afternoon?”
  • Break down complex tasks into small, easily achievable ones. Be encouraging and focus on what your loved one has already accomplished.
  • Set a routine or schedule activities in advance. That way, your loved one knows exactly what to expect throughout the day.

Apathy can be complex and challenging to deal with. Together, we can increase awareness of this common but under-recognized symptom in Lewy body dementia and help care partners and people living with LBD better manage it. If you need direct support, please reach out to our Lewy Line to speak with licensed professionals in our Support Services. For more tips, feel free to explore the Lewy Body Dementia Association website.  You can also sign up for our email newsletter, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, or contact us directly with any questions you have.