This month’s expert is Krista L. Lanctot, PhD, director, Neuropsychopharmacology Research Program; senior scientist, Sunnybrook Research Institute; professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, University of Toronto
Dear Dr. Lanctot,
I’m not sure if my mother would be considered clinically depressed or not. She just seems like she doesn’t care about much and isn’t very engaged in her world. Could this be depression and, if so, should I be concerned that she could be at risk for developing Alzheimer’s?
It is hard to watch someone you love not enjoying life as they used to. While it could be depression, there is also a syndrome termed apathy, and there is significant overlap between the two. Apathy is characterized by lack of interest, decreased motivation and something called emotional blunting, which refers to the failure to express typical emotions – verbally or non-verbally. Apathy can be distinguished from depression, which typically involves a strong mood component.
Both apathy and depression have been associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The good news is that both are treatable: an assessment by a healthcare professional can help determine next steps.
This doesn’t mean she suffers from either depression or apathy – or that she might develop Alzheimer’s. But, the protective measures you can take to support brain health – heart-healthy diet, no smoking, regular exercise – are good recommendations for anyone to take in order to maximize the odds of living a long, healthy life.