Apathy vs. Depression

What’s the difference?
“Apathy and depression are two conditions that have been studied extensively in psychology. Apathy refers to the lack of interest that can be seen in a person. Depression, on the other hand, is a psychological condition where a person loses interest in daily activities and feels hopeless.” (differencebetween.com)

So how does apathy impact persons with dementia? According to “Dementia Weekly,” approximately 90% of those with dementia will experience apathy at some point.  They lose interest in things they have always enjoyed and don’t seem to be curious about anything. Because of this lack of interest in new or old things, their cognitive ability is likely to decline at a faster rate as well.

We know that regular, consistent stimulation in the home or through an activity program in an assisted living memory-care program or nursing home, will help patients to stave off apathy.  Regular activities or tasks keep dementia patients on a daily pattern or schedule.

Many family members and untrained professional staff do not understand that through many stages of dementia, patients are able to still participate in adapted activities.  Rules need to be adjusted to meet the patient’s abilities, but patients may still be able to play Scrabble or checkers or Bunco if it is the right environment for them.  We know that music (and music therapy) is a wonderful activity for our dementia patients.  Music is stored in the long-term memory bank of the brain.  “Alive Inside” is proof of how important music can be on a daily basis.  Eventually as your loved one’s dementia continues to progress, there will be little chance of peaking your (Dad’s) interest or keeping him involved in activities.  That is to be expected.  But don’t give up on your Dad during the earlier and middle stages of the disease.

I have heard family members say over and over again…  all he wants to do is sit in his chair and watch television all day… he used to love to go for walks and I can’t get him to leave the house… he loves the RedSox, but now he has no interest in watching a game.  These are all signs of apathy.  If you question that Dad might be experiencing depression, please make sure you talk with his doctor for his/her advice.

Apathy can become a “normal” behavior for your loved one.  Put yourself in your Dad’s shoes for a few minutes.  If he is having difficulty understanding words or speaking, if his memory has been effected by Alzheimer’s or dementia and if he can’t seem to process what is being said to or around him, then he is going to lose interest in what is happening in his environment.  He’s only going to do things that keep him in his comfort zone. And that may be exhibited by him isolating himself and not participating in things he enjoyed doing in the past.  As their world continues to shrink and their ability to participate in once loved activities vanishes, they are looking for a life that makes them feel secure and safe.

Source: Dementia Weekly, 12.5.17
Read More
About DCPutnam
  1. From David Creamer: 12.15.17

    Hi Doreen:

    I want to post this comment on your blog.

    ” As a caregiver there is a fine line between:
    1. Keeping a loved active and engaged.
    2. Keeping a loved one in their comfort zone.

    This balance between the two can be difficult. Yes, I wanted to keep my parents as active as possible when my father was early stage Alzheimer’s. But I found that as memory loss progressed I needed to gradually limit the activities and not overwhelm them with too much stimulus. Caregivers need to be attentive and sensitive to this!!!! Activities that an Alzheimer’s patient enjoyed in 2017 might not work in 2018.

    I can use Thanksgiving as a perfect example. In 2013 my wife and I picked up my parents and drove them to our house for dinner. By 2015 traveling was out of the question so we would visit them in their assisted living apartment on Thanksgiving evening.”

  2. David,

    You are absolutely right. Each individual and each situation is different and will change from day to day… week to week… and year to year. It’s in the early/middle stages of the development of the dementia diseases that families need to be aware that they can/should encourage their loved ones to be as active as possible. As the diseases progress, everything in their life is going to change and slow down. Thanks for your comments and insight.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.