Dementia describes a cluster of symptoms associated with brain damage that becomes progressively worse over time.
While the condition cannot be prevented, identifying it early enough can help a person to maintain quality of life for as long as possible.
One of the main markers of dementia is memory loss but recent research suggests another symptom may play a more prominent role.
Researchers found that a proportion had apathy without depression, which suggests that the symptom might have its own unique clinical and biological profile when compared to apathy with depression and depression only.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Miguel de Silva Vasconcelos, of the University of Exeter and King’s College London, said: “Apathy is an under-researched and often ignored symptom of dementia. It can be overlooked because people with apathy seem less disruptive and less engaging, but it has a huge impact on the quality of life of people living with dementia, and their families.
Where people withdraw from activities, it can accelerate cognitive decline and we know that there are higher mortality rates in people with apathy. It’s now time this symptom was recognised and prioritised in research and understanding.”
Weighing on the findings, Professor Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Apathy is the forgotten symptom of dementia, yet it can have devastating consequences. Our research shows just how common apathy is in people with dementia, and we now need to understand it better so we can find effective new treatments.
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He added: Our WHELD study to improve care home staff training through personalised care and social interaction included an exercise programme that improved apathy, so we know we can make a difference. This is a real opportunity for interventions that could significantly benefit thousands of people with dementia.”
Why it is important to spot it dementia early?
Although there is no cure for dementia at present, if it’s diagnosed in the early stages, there are ways you can slow it down and maintain mental function.
As the NHS explains, a diagnosis can help people with dementia get the right treatment and support, and help those close to them to prepare and plan for the future.
Can I reduce my risk?
Although getting older is the biggest risk factor for dementia, evidence shows there are things you can do to help reduce your own risk.
As the Alzheimer’s Society explains, eating a healthy, balanced diet may reduce your risk of dementia, as well as other conditions including cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and heart disease.
A Mediterranean-style diet, which consists of fruit, vegetables and cereals, and low in red meat and sugar, is a healthy, balanced approach and this diet may reduce your risk of dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there is some evidence that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking, and getting some forms of dementia.
Investigations have also shown that this kind of diet is associated with lower levels of stroke, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and death from any cause.