Apathy is a distinct sign of looming dementia in individuals with cerebrovascular disease, according to researchers from the University of Cambridge.

Investigators studied 450 participants with cerebral small vessel disease, thought to occur in about one in three elderly adults. A disorder of the brain’s blood vessels, SVD is the most common cause of vascular dementia. Symptoms include a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, or concern and cognitive deficits.

In a study of 450 participants, investigators found that those with higher apathy or steadily increasing apathy had a greater chance of developing dementia. What’s more, the findings held, regardless of symptom severity or risk factors such as age and education level, reported Professor Jonathan Tay..

Depression, on the other hand, did not influence risk, despite commonly being thought of as a predictor of dementia.

“There has been a lot of conflicting research on the association between late-life depression and dementia,” Tay said in a statement. “Our study suggests that may partially be due to common clinical depression scales not distinguishing between depression and apathy.”

Older patients should be monitored for apathy, concluded Tay. These individuals “could be sent for more detailed clinical examinations, or be recommended for treatment,” he wrote.

The study was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

In other dementia-related news

Long-term cognitive decline a likely side effect of delirium, say surgeons: A new meta-analysis of 24 studies reveals that the delirium experienced in many elderly patients under medical duress may lead to long-term cognitive decline. In adults older than 65, delirium is the most common surgical complication. It is also tied to illnesses such as sepsis, respiratory failure, and some cases of COVID-19, the researchers said.