Pay Attention to Apathy

Hello everyone,

“The squeaky wheel gets the oil” is a well-known proverb. In terms of challenging behaviors, the man running down the hall naked or the woman crying loudly at lunch generally get our attention more quickly than the quiet lady in room 101 who likes to keep to herself and “isn’t any trouble.”

In fact, all of these behaviors are in need of our attention, including the lady in room 101. Apathy is one of the most common and persistent of the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, and has profound consequences for morbidity and mortality. While research shows that apathy is associated with changes in brain function in people with neurodegenerative disease, it also shows that individual, caregiver and environmental factors also precipitate apathy.

Non-pharmacologic approaches to apathy have shown to be more effective for managing apathy than pharmacologic approaches, which have shown only modest results.

So what can you do?

Try tailoring the person’s activities based on their personal history, preferences and retained abilities. This is where those “nuggets of gold”— information from their social history file, conversations with family members and friends, and communication with co-workers—can really pay off. For example, did you learn that the person once loved to paint? Adores Golden Retrievers? Sings opera?

Using this information, you can create person-centered activities that can supply intrinsic motivation by capturing the interest of the person and providing them with a reward. Music therapy, multi-sensory behavioral therapy, art therapy, cognitive stimulation, and therapeutic conversation are some interventions to try. And remember…never give up! Never stop asking the person to join you in an activity. You never know when they might say yes. We’ve seen it happen!

 We invite you (CONTEST ALERT!) to send us a tidbit about how you manage residents with apathy at your community. Did something specific you did work for a resident? What are some of your creative ideas for how to approach apathy? The communities that send us the best tidbits will win prizes! Please email them to

Have a great week!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *