Is Apathy a Sign of Brain Shrinkage in Older Age?

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Signs of apathy in older adults might be a warning sign for cognitive issues, as a new study shows apathetic older adults tend to have smaller brain volume than their more active peers.

148The researchers examined over 4,300 older adults, and saw that those with at least two signs of apathy had slightly less gray matter and white matter in their brains. Gray matter is associated with the brain’s information-processing, while white matter acts as the wiring between those areas.

The study, published online April 16 in Neurology demonstrated a correlation, but not a cause-and-effect relationship and the experts say they are not clear what to make of the findings yet.

One theory suggests that apathy may be acting as a warning sign of increased dementia risk or another cognitive deficit, but there is no way to be sure without more study.

The research analyzed 4,354 adults from Iceland, the majority of whom were in their 70’s, and put them through MRI scans to measure brain volume. The participants were also asked to answer three questions intended to gauge apathy.

Nearly half of the participants showed signs of apathy, and those participants also had smaller brain volume than those with one or no signs of apathy.

Next the researchers will have to explore which came first. Did apathy trigger the diminishing brain structures? Or, did brain shrinkage create feelings of apathy?

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