Apathy is a common symptom in frontotemporal degeneration (including frontotemporal dementia, progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal degeneration, etc) as well as other disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. In my experience working with caregivers of these neurological diseases for nearly 15 years, I can say that apathy is one of the most challenging symptoms for caregivers and families.
The Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (AFTD, theaftd.org) has just published its winter issue of “Partners in FTD Care.” The newsletter, for healthcare professionals, presents an overview of the three components of apathy — initiation, planning, and motivation. A case study is shared of Linda and her caregiver husband Kevin. There is a discussion about what distinguishes apathy from depression.
Additionally, there are lots of strategies provided to manage apathy. And two views of apathy are shared — one from a person diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia and another from an FTD caregiver.
I’ve copied a few excerpts below but the entire newsletter is worth checking out, if you are coping with apathy.
Partners in FTD Care
Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration
Components of Apathy
Three distinct components of goal-directed behavior are initiation, planning, and motivation. Each is supported by a distinct region of the frontal lobe. Apathy may emerge where there is dysfunction of any one of these components; understanding
them may help care providers and families to develop interventions tailored to an individual’s particular needs.
What distinguished her apathy from depression?
Linda’s family doctor ascribed her loss of interest in activities and relationships to depression, despite Linda doing well on the Mini-Mental Status Examination and not presenting as sad or concerned about the changes in her life. Antidepressants did not change her symptoms. She struggled throughout a psychiatrist’s evaluation of her planning, working memory, verbal fluency, and mental flexibility. Her history and executive-function impairment prompted the psychiatrist to order an MRI to investigate further. Prominent atrophy in Linda’s frontal lobe indicated the apathy
was due to degenerative disease rather than depression, and the doctor diagnosed FTD.
How did Linda’s husband cope with her growing lack of motivation and activity?
Kevin found himself frequently overwhelmed and angry that he had to plan and arrange all of Linda’s activities. He found himself thinking that she was sometimes being purposeful and defiant, even though he understood that her changing behavior was a result of FTD. He attended a caregiver support group led by an AFTD-affiliated facilitator where he could talk with others facing similar challenges. Group members suggested structuring her daily activities, and encouraged him to simplify the steps. When his children started to offer advice, Kevin struggled with guilt; he wondered whether he was doing enough for Linda. His doctor suggested he see a psychologist to help cope with his emotions and the stress of caregiving. This helped him continue to manage Linda’s care while acknowledging his own need for support and assistance.
Apathy is among the most challenging symptoms for family and professional caregivers to manage. Effective interventions are individually tailored, rely on environmental strategies, and are delivered with understanding and patience.
Support Positive Approaches
• Reframe apathy as brain-based rather than the result of stubbornness or defiance.
• Develop individualized activities based on needs and interests that motivate and direct the person: spiritual, emotional, physical, nutritional, intellectual, and social. Follow the schedule consistently and adapt the level of difficulty of activities
as abilities change.
• Check your emotions continually and try to maintain a positive tone. People with FTD may have difficulty understanding speech but understand tone of voice and non-verbal communication. Anger and annoyance impede engagement and task
• Practice patience.
• Plan extra time for activities.
• Remember, you cannot change the person with FTD. Concentrate on modifying the environment and the intervention.
• Provide emotional support for family caregivers struggling to engage a loved one. Many feel anger over apathetic behavior, or feel they “aren’t doing enough” for the person with FTD, which adds to caregiver stress.