Apathy is a lack of interest in life
activities and/or interacting with others. It can affect your ability to keep a
job, maintain personal relationships, and enjoy life.
Everybody experiences apathy from time to
time. You may occasionally feel unmotivated or uninterested in daily tasks.
This type of situational apathy is normal. Apathy becomes more dangerous if you
have a chronic condition and are unmotivated to treat it.
Apathy is a symptom of a number of
neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. It also can be a syndrome
in and of itself.
What causes apathy?
Apathy is a symptom of a number of
psychiatric and neurological disorders. Examples include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- dysthymia or chronic
- frontotemporal dementia
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- vascular dementia
A person can also experience apathy
without an underlying medical condition.
Researchers of a 2011 study
found lesions in the frontal lobe of the brain in patients with apathy symptoms.
The brain’s apathy center is widely believed to be located in the front of the
brain. Apathy may result from a stroke that affects this part of the brain.
Teenagers are likely to experience periods
of apathy. It typically passes with time. Long-term emotional detachment and
apathy is not normal in teens.
What are the symptoms of apathy?
You may feel a lack of passion or
motivation if you are experiencing apathy. It can affect your behavior and your
ability to complete daily activities. The main symptom of apathy is a lack of
motivation to do, complete, or accomplish anything. You may also experience low
You may have diminished emotions,
motivation, and willingness to act. Activities or events that normally interest
you may create little to no response.
Apathy may cause you to express
disinterest in many aspects of life. You may be indifferent when you meet new
people or try new things. You may show no interest in activities or in
addressing personal problems or concerns. Your facial expressions may not
appear to change. You may exhibit a lack of effort, planning, and emotional
response. You may also spend more time by yourself.
Continued apathy can affect your ability
to maintain personal relationships and perform well at school or work.
Apathy is not the same as depression. It
can be a symptom of depression along with disinterest. Depression may also cause
feelings of hopelessness and guilt. Serious risks associated with depression
include substance abuse and suicide.
How is apathy diagnosed?
Healthcare practitioners use four criteria
to diagnose apathy. People with apathy meet all four:
- A decrease
in or lack of motivation: A patient displays diminished
motivation that is not consistent with age, culture, or health status.
thinking, or emotional changes: Changes in behavior
may make it difficult to engage in conversations or perform daily tasks.
Changes in thinking include a disinterest
in the news, social events, and deep thinking.
on quality of life: The changes in behavior
negatively affect a person’s professional life and personal relationships.
in behavior not caused by other conditions: The
changes in behavior are unrelated to physical disabilities, substance
abuse, or an affected level of consciousness.
Patients must have these symptoms for four
weeks or longer.
How is apathy treated?
Apathy treatments depend upon the
underlying cause. Medications and psychotherapy can help restore your interest
in life. You may show chronic apathy symptoms if you have a progressive
disorder such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
If your doctor determines that medication
is appropriate, they will prescribe according to the condition that is causing
Examples of prescription medications include:
- antidementia agents,
which treat Alzheimer’s disease, such as donepezil (Aricept), galantamine
(Razadyne), and rivastigmine (Exelon)
- antidepressants, such
as paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), and bupropion (Wellbutrin,
- cerebral circulation
and metabolism stimulants that treat symptoms of stroke, such as
- dopamine stimulants,
which treat Parkinson’s disease, such as ropinirole (Requip)
- antipsychotic agents,
which are used to treat schizophrenia
- psychostimulants, which
are often used to treat apathy with no known underlying cause (examples
include methylphenidate (Ritalin), pemoline (Cylert), and amphetamine)
You may benefit from a supportive network
of family and/or friends. They can help you regain interest in your life and
Mental health professionals can also help.
They can discuss concerns and also guide people to re-establish a more positive
outlook on life. A combination of therapy and medication may be more effective
for apathy than either treatment on its own.
Research continues on other potential
treatments for chronic apathy. One possible treatment is cranial electrotherapy
stimulation. This approach may help treat apathy after a traumatic brain injury
that affects the frontal lobe. A specialist applies a brief, low-voltage
electric current across the forehead to stimulate the brain. The treatment is
Another potential therapy is cognitive
stimulation therapy. This approach is used for Alzheimer’s patients. It
involves participation in group activities in order to stimulate brain waves.
Examples include games or looking at pictures to recognize facial expressions.