Brain Support Network volunteer Denise Dagan came across this article in a recent Parkinson’s Disease (PD) organization’s newsletter about apathy in PD. Certainly apathy occurs in many of the disorders in the Brain Support Network community as well — especially progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). That’s why I’m sharing the article within our network.
These statements in the article caught Denise’s eye:
“Persons with apathy generally do not recognize the symptoms, so caregivers will need to bring it to medical attention. … It is important to assess for apathy because those with apathy are 2.5 times more likely to report poor quality of life in comparison to those without apathy. Apathy is also associated with more severe motor impairment. PD patients with apathy are less physically active and may not adhere to medical recommendations. Relationships may suffer as well since caregivers often experience more frustration and stress.”
The author of the article is Rosa Chuang, MD. She may be familiar to some in our multiple system atrophy (MSA) group. She used to practice at Stanford but is now in Seattle.
The article is copied below.
Apathy in Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s Pathfinder (Newsletter by APDA Northwest)
By Dr. Rosalind Chuang
Apathy is a common non-motor symptom of Parkinson’s disease but often times not recognized or commonly mistaken for depression. Some studies show that 30-40% of PD patients have apathy, but the frequency can range from 20-70%, depending on how patients are asked. It can occur at any stage of PD and can even occur before motor symptoms develop. It is important to assess for apathy because those with apathy are 2.5 times more likely to report poor quality of life in comparison to those without apathy. Apathy is also associated with more severe motor impairment. PD patients with apathy are less physically active and may not adhere to medical recommendations. Relationships may suffer as well since caregivers often experience more frustration and stress.
WHAT IS APATHY?
Apathy is defined as:
• Loss of motivation or lack of initiative
• Loss of pleasure
• Decreased goal directed behaviors
• Decreased goal directed cognitive activity
• Decreased interests and emotions (reduced display of emotions)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IF YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT APATHY
A common complaint from family and friends is that the PD patient just “sits around” or “doesn’t seem to care about anything.” Nothing gets done and a person often declines social activities if given a choice. This can be misinterpreted as fatigue, laziness, or lack of empathy/ uncaring.
Persons with apathy generally do not recognize the symptoms, so caregivers will need to bring it to medical attention. Medical providers may ask specific questions from the Starkstein apathy scale to determine apathy. Some questions on the scale include:
• Any interest in learning new things?
• Does anything interest you?
• Do you look for things to do?
• Are you concerned about your condition? Or unconcerned about many things?
• Does someone have to tell you what to do each day? Do you need a push to get started on things?
• Are you neither happy nor sad, just in between?
As you can see, these questions are similar to those to assess for depression, so sometimes it can be difficult to separate apathy from depression. Often times, patients can have both depression and apathy, but in ~10- 28% of time, patients can have apathy alone.
WHY IS IT NOT DEPRESSION?
In both depression and apathy, a person may no longer enjoy things. However, someone with depression may endorse feeling “blue” or sad. Other “negative” symptoms of depression include inappropriate guilt, loss of appetite, loss of sleep, or thoughts of death. An apathetic person does not cry frequently or have suicidal thoughts.
It is important to evaluate if the symptoms are from apathy alone because it can affect treatment. If apathy is associated with depression or anxiety, treatment of co-morbid conditions can help reduce apathy. Sometimes isolated apathy can also respond to the SSRIs used to treat depression, but generally studies don’t show good response. Dopamine medications (levodopa or dopamine agonists) may also improve apathy. (In some patient who have undergone deep brain stimulation for PD, rapid withdrawal of their PD medications resulted in apathy.) In one trial, PD apathy responded to rivastigmine, a medication used for dementia, even though the patients did not actually have dementia.
For isolated apathy, I generally recommend non-pharmacologic treatment. These include:
• Write down at least 3 daily goals and 3 weekly goals. These goals can be physical, social, or thinking activities.
• Daily goals should be specific and can be reasonably achieved.
• Create a schedule: be specific when each task will should be accomplished.
• Review the written list at breakfast, lunch and dinner to remind yourself of the next goal.
• Cross off each task as you complete them.
• Say “yes” to at least one thing every day even if you don’t feel like it.
• Maintain routine: continue to do things you used to do, even if you don’t feel like it.
• Recall an activity that you used to enjoy and try to restart that activity.
• Exercise even if you don’t feel like it.
• Must leave the house at least once a day
Even though apathy is not as easily treated as the motor symptoms of PD or other non-motor symptoms such as depression, simply recognizing and understanding apathy is an important part of overall management of Parkinson’s disease.