Apathy in Older Adults: How Can it Be Prevented?

How can apathy in the elderly be prevented? In this article, we'll discuss this important topic, since it's key to take care of our mental well-being as we age.
Apathy in Older Adults: How Can it Be Prevented?

Last update: 12 November, 2022

Isolation, neglect of emotional ties, and a loss of interest in activities that they once loved. Apathy in older adults is a common concern that should not be overlooked at any time, as this can lead to deep depression.

According to the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (SEMFYC), up to 20% of people over 80 years of age suffer from apathy. The causes can be varied and are all related to the fact of aging itself. But you know what? There are ways to prevent it.

What are the signs of apathy in older adults?

Loss of interest in the people around you is the clearest symptom of apathy in older adults. There’s no longer a desire to spend time with their grandchildren, let alone friends. Those card games or evenings on the village bench chatting are no longer appealing.

Not taking care of oneself is another sign of apathy in older adults. In this case, we’re referring to aspects of personal hygiene, nutrition, and the way they dress. It’s as if nothing matters, as if they have stopped loving themselves.

Another sign of apathy in older adults is indifference. Indifference to a friend’s terminal illness or to societal events in the news. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t care about anything, but that they’re apathetic, and it is a sign of possible depression.

apathy in older adults
Apathy is related to depression and isolation, which increases loneliness at this stage. It can also increase the likelihood of suffering from health problems, such as heart problems. 

The fact that apathy affects 20% of older adults is significant, since this phenomenon appears to be closely linked to old age. For example, Alzheimer’s disease can be linked with apathy, as can Parkinson’s disease. These diseases make people dependent on caregivers and diminish their quality of life.

Falling and hitting one’s head may also have altered some brain structures. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to any injury and to the moods that appear afterward.

There are other factors that are also linked to loneliness. Children tend to create their own families, move away from their elders, and never seem to have time to spend a weekend with them. Many seniors feel isolated, and this causes a deep depression that manifests itself in apathy.

Diagnosis and treatment of apathy

To diagnose apathy in older adults, four factors are taken into account:

  • A lack of motivation.
  • Emotional changes.
  • Effects on the person’s quality of life.
  • Behavioral changes.

If these factors are maintained for one month or more, it’s a warning sign that something is wrong. Therefore, it’s necessary to go to the doctor.

With regard to treatment, there are several options. These range from taking medication (antidepressants, dopamine stimulants, psychostimulants, psychotropic agents) to cognitive stimulation therapies with exercises that should be done daily.

Like this article? You may also like to read: Aging of the Immune System and How to Fight It

Recommendations to prevent apathy in older adults

Now that you understand a little more about what causes and the symptoms that manifest in the apathy of old age, let’s take a closer look at some recommendations to avoid it. Although it may not seem like it, there are ways to prevent it.

1. Encourage healthy social relationships

To prevent apathy in old age, social relationships should be encouraged, since the symptom may be related to loneliness. Even if you live far away, it’s also a good idea to take care of our elders, to spend weekends with them, to visit them whenever we can, and to call them daily, if necessary.

2. Make sure they participate in activities

We can involve the elderly in many different activities, whether it’s playing chess or practicing yoga. This will help them stay active and feel better. Besides, if we do them with them, it will be much more enriching.

3. Ask them to collaborate and help out

If they collaborate to make food, put something back in its place, or build a piece of furniture, it’s valuable. Sometimes, we may not ask the elderly to collaborate because they’re not as quick as we are, and this makes us nervous. However, we must make an effort so that they can feel useful and prevent the onset of apathy.

grandparents with their grandchildren
Spending time with older adults is a simple, fun, and practical way to prevent apathy.

4. Give them love and affection

All human beings need affection, and older people even more so. They can feel very lonely, so any detail, such as a hug or simply holding their hands, is essential.

Prevent apathy before it appears

Preventing apathy in the elderly is important, and with these tips, we’re here to tell you that it really is possible. That said, it’s clear that degenerative diseases or other circumstances can have an influence, and in these cases, it’s necessary to ask for information and support from a medical professional.

However, some things are in our hands, and that is where we can do something. Let’s communicate with them, let’s invite them to do activities together, and let’s give them the place they deserve.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Espín Andrade, A. M. (2008). Caracterización psicosocial de cuidadores informales de adultos mayores con demencia. Revista Cubana de Salud Pública34, 1-12.
  • Keegan, E., & Garay, C. (2007). Terapia cognitivo-conductual de la esquizofrenia. Vertex. Revista Argentina de Psiquiatría18(76), 423-427.
  • Peláez, M. S., Bernal, J. G., Cámara, R. S., Iglesias, A. I. S., & Jahouh, M. (2020). Ansiedad, depresión y apatía en relación a la situación de fragilidad. Revista INFAD de Psicología. International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology.2(1), 149-158.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.