Study links environmental characteristics to apathy in dementia residents

Another reason design is important: The more stimulating the environment, the less likely residents with dementia are to be apathetic. This is according to a new study out of Penn State.

With apathy being one of the most common neurobehavioral symptoms of dementia, it's important to keep residents engaged, the study reported. 

"Persons with dementia who are also apathetic won't be curious about the world around them; they are not motivated to carry out activity nor engage with those around them, in either a positive or a negative way," Ying-Ling Jao, assistant professor of nursing, Penn State, told News Medical. "Apathy has several negative consequences for both the persons with dementia and their caregivers. The individuals' cognitive function will likely decline faster and their caregivers will have more difficulty with their caregiving and are more likely to become depressed."

For research, Jao studied videos of 40 nursing home residents with dementia and how they interacted at mealtime, during direct contact with staff and at one random time of day. She observed environmental stimulation, ambience, crowding, staff familiarity and lights and sounds. She found that clear, strong stimulation attributed to less apathy in the residents, while too much stimulation created higher apathy.

An example of strong stimulation would be a birthday party, and an example of medium stimulation would be normal mealtime conversation, the study reported. 

"One of the most important implications of these findings is that they will guide us in designing appropriate physical and social environments for dementia care that helps prevent or decrease apathy," Jao told News Medical. "We need more people to care about apathy for older adults with dementia."

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Topics: Alzheimer's/Dementia , Clinical , Design