Forming profiles of apathy in neurodegenerative disease

6 March 2017

New Anne Rowling Clinic research sheds further light on apathy (demotivation) in people living with neurodegenerative disorders.

Apathy, defined as a lack of motivation, can occur in people living with various conditions. There are different forms of apathy that can be observed as a difficulty in motivation to plan, organise or be attentive, start things or initiate thoughts and experience happy or sad emotions (i.e., emotional indifference). Dr Ratko Radakovic - who completed his PhD at the University of Edinburgh, Anne Rowling Clinic, Psychology and Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre and colleagues have previously shown that it is difficult to detect different forms of apathy, This prompted Ratko and Professor Sharon Abrahams to develop a new scale, the Dimensional Apathy Scale, to specifically measure types of apathy, independent of physical disability.

Research published last year using the Dimensional Apathy Scale showed that some people living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a form of motor neurone disease) had a particular form of apathy. Specifically, this was a lack of motivation to initiate thoughts, which was independent of their physical disability.

Ratko's most recent work, published this year, looked at people living with Parkinson's disease and what type of demotivation they report and their family members observe. The findings showed that some people living with Parkinson's disease display a lack of motivation to plan, organise or be attentive, in addition to a demotivation to initiate thoughts. Further exploration showed that this combination of apathy might be associated with mild difficulties in daily life.

This work paves the way for further research to better understand the profiles and impact of these different forms of apathy on people living with different neurodegenerative disease, and also their caregivers. With better identification of types of apathy, Ratko hopes to help people living with these conditions and their caregivers through making it possible to create specific ways of improving motivation.

Radakovic, R., Stephenson, L., Colville, S., Swingler, R., Chandran, S., & Abrahams, S. (2016). Multidimensional apathy in ALS: validation of the Dimensional Apathy Scale. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 87(6), 663-669.

Radakovic, R., Davenport, R., Starr, J. M., & Abrahams (In press). Apathy dimensions in Parkinson’s disease. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1002/gps.4697.


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