Apathy could lead to a greater risk of dementia, study finds

Older adults with a lack of interest in their usual activities could be showing an early warning sign for dementia.

(CNN)Apathy, a decrease in motivation and goal-directed behavior, in older adults could lead to an increased risk of developing dementia, according to a new study.

Finding ways to treat apathy could be key in slowing neurodegeneration as we age, according to the study, published Wednesday by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, on Wednesday in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
"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.
    Bock and her team concluded that those with severe levels of apathy were 80% more likely to develop dementia than those with low levels of apathy, after adjusting for age, education and other dementia 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."

      A reason for earlier treatment

      An estimated 5 million Americans age 65 or older had dementia in 2014, a figure that is projected to nearly triple to 14 million by the year 2060, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
        More research confirming apathy as a dementia risk factor could help in finding how best to target early dementia interventions in the future.
        "We could be giving treatment too late in the course of the disease," Bock said.
        That's because the results could indicate that apathy is a characteristic of an early stage of dementia, in what's called the prodromal stage, Bock said. In that stage, the person remains fully functional and the early effects of dementia, such as memory problems and confusion, can't be detected through interviews or testing.
        Determining which attributes or traits are associated with an actual dementia di