Approaches to Address Apathy

Hello everyone,

We’ve mentioned that apathy is a common challenge for people who have dementia, and is often overlooked because the person with apathy is not generally disruptive to staff or other residents. It is important to remember that apathy is different from depression, as a person who is apathetic is not necessarily sad, but instead lacks motivation or initiation to begin tasks. Understanding this is key, and is the first step towards helping your staff learn how to engage someone who has apathy.

If you have a resident who does not participate in group activities, invite them to sit and watch the others who are doing the activity. Sometimes, the person will eventually join in. One of our research interventionists witnessed this today! The resident refused to participate in the exercise class, and just wanted to watch the others. Staff left her alone, and after a few minutes, returned to find the woman participating  all on her own. You can also try telling the person that it’s “their turn to”… throw the horseshoe, kick the ball, etc. They may surprise you and join in.

Another approach is to start doing things with them one-on-one that you know they once enjoyed doing, such as going for a walk, coloring, singing or playing horse shoes. You never know what may spark them to begin an activity, so keep trying and never give up!

You can also ask them to help you with something, such as cleaning off a table or setting up for an activity with other residents. If you have a specific job that the person can do each day, this is all the better and can help the person needed and useful.

To learn more about apathy and how it differs from depression, read this brief article recently published on

Have a great week and let us know if any of these approaches work for you!

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