What is apathy?

The term apathy describes absolute indifference to and lack of interest in the daily activities of life. A person suffering from apathy doesn’t find it interesting to interact with others. Apathy affects the ability to enjoy the fun side of life, maintain relationships, or even keep a job.

Apathy is a common disorder. Everyone experiences it occasionally. At times, one feels a total disinterest in life’s activities. The motivation to do things is just not there. It is normal. However, the condition becomes dangerous when it progresses to the chronic stage and the sufferer does not feel the motivation to treat it. The disorder is a symptom of disorders of the nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease. In some cases, it may be a syndrome on its own.

What are the major causes of apathy?

Apathy is a symptom of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Symptoms of apathy include:

  • Chronic mild depression also known clinically as dysthymia
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy
  • Stroke
  • Vascular dementia

The disorder can also show up even in the absence of an underlying medical condition.

A 2011 research discovered lesions in the frontal lobe of patients with apathy symptoms. The frontal region of the brain is believed to be the apathy center. This condition is triggered when a stroke affects this part of the brain. Apathy also occurs in teenagers. It is actually a period disorder meaning that it passes with time. Teenagers do not experience apathy in the long term.

The symptoms of apathy

One common symptom of this condition is a complete lack of motivation or passion. Your behavior changes and you become unable to complete your daily activities. The major symptoms of this condition is a lack of motivation to achieve or complete anything. You may also feel chronic fatigue or low levels of energy.

A person suffering from apathy has fading emotions, and is not willing nor motivated to act. Things that you are normally interested in, or excited at, becomes so boring and disinteresting to you.

In an apathic condition, the sufferer becomes disinterested in many aspects of life. There is no excitement when you try new things or meet new people. You are also not bothered by personal problems or concerns. Your facial expression remains static. Also, the apathic person is more interested in spending time with himself.

If the the disorder continues without any treatment, then it affects the ability of the sufferer to do well at work, school, or even in his or her relationships.

It is important to note that there is a difference between apathy and depression. This disorder may signify depression alongside disinterest. In many cases, depression is accompanied by feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Depression is associated with risks such as suicide and substance abuse.

Diagnosing apathy

The condition is diagnosed based on four criteria. People suffering from apathy meet all the criteria. These are:

  • A reduction in or total lack of motivation: The patient is not motivated by anything. The lack of motivation displayed by the patient is inconsistent with the health status, culture, and age.
  • Changes in behavior, thoughts or emotion: With apathy, the sufferer is not able to engage in conversations or carry out daily tasks. Changes in thought pattern would include a lack of interest in social events, news, and deep thinking.
  • Effect on quality of life: Apathy can have a negative effect on the quality of life of the patient. Personal relationship and professional life of the patient is also affected.
  • Changes in behavior not caused by other conditions: Behavioral changes exhibited by the patient cannot be linked to any physical disabilities, alteration in consciousness, and substance abuse.

These symptoms must be exhibited by the patient for at least a month.

Treatment for apathy

Treatment for this condition depends on the underlying cause. The symptoms may be relieved by psychotherapy and medications. Chronic symptoms of the disorder may manifest if the patient has an underlying condition like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.


If the physician feels that medications are best in this condition, then they make their prescription based on the underlying condition.

Some of the prescription medications used include:

  • Medications that treat Alzheimer’s, for example, donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne), and rivastigmine (Exelon)
  • Anti-depressants, like paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), and bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban)
  • Drugs that stimulate metabolism and cerebral circulation (that treat symptoms of stroke), such as nicergoline (Sermion)
  • Dopamine stimulants for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease such as ropinirole (Requip)
  • Antipsychotic agents for the treatment of schizophrenia
  • Psychostimulants used in most cases for treating apathy without any known cause (example include methylphenidate (Ritalin), pemoline (Cylert), and amphetamine)

Home care

A social network of friends and family may be of help. They can revive your interest in life and your environment.

The services of mental health professionals are also indispensable. With their help, you can see life from a brighter perspective. Combining medications with therapy will have a more potent effect compared to either treatment on its own.

Future treatments

Research is ongoing for treatment of chronic apathy. A possible treatment would be cranial electrotherapy stimulation. This can help in treatment of traumatic brain injury affecting the frontal lobe. The treatment involves the application of a low-voltage electric current to the forehead. It is a painless treatment.

Cognitive stimulation therapy is another form of treatment. It is used mainly for treating Alzheimer patients. Cognitive stimulation therapy involves taking part in group activities for the purpose of stimulating brain waves.

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