Apathy in old age ‘an early sign of dementia’: New study shows that Losing interest in favored hobbies could mean Alzheimer’s

Losing interest in hobbies and other activities in old age could be an early sign of dementia, say scientists.

A US study found that elderly people who were apathetic but not suffering depression had shrinking amounts of grey and white matter – neurons in the brain that control memory and communication respectively.

Researchers say the findings offer doctors a new tool with which to identify a group of the population at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers found that apathy was a common complaint among patients with Alzheimer's Disease
Researchers found that apathy was a common complaint among patients with Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr Lenore Launer, of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, said: ‘Just as signs of memory loss may signal brain changes related to brain disease, apathy may indicate underlying changes.

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Researchers gave MRI scans to 4,354 people with an average age of 74 as part of the study
Researchers gave MRI scans to 4,354 people with an average age of 74 as part of the study

‘Apathy symptoms are common in older people without dementia. And the fact participants in our study had apathy without depression should turn our attention to how apathy alone could indicate brain disease.’

The researchers used brain volume as a measure of accelerated brain ageing. Neuron losses occur during normal ageing but larger ones could indicate brain diseases.

In the study, 4,354 people without dementia and with an average age of 76 underwent an MRI scan.

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People with two or more symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease had on average 1.4 percent grey matter in their brain compared with healthy people
People with two or more symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease had on average 1.4 percent grey matter in their brain compared with healthy people

They were also asked questions that measure apathy symptoms which include lack of interest, lack of emotion, dropping activities and interests and preferring to stay at home, and having a lack of energy.

People with two or more symptoms had 1.4 per cent less grey matter and 1.6 per cent less white matter compared to those who had fewer.

Grey matter is where learning takes place and memories are stored in the brain. White matter acts as the communication cables that connect different parts of the brain.

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Dr Launer said: ‘If these findings are confirmed, identifying people with apathy earlier may be one way to target an at-risk group.’

The study is published online in Neurology – the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Source | DailyMail

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