A June 2013 study published in the Journal of American Medical Directors Association found that apathy is the behavioral symptom most strongly correlated with weight loss in nursing home residents. This comes as a surprise because it was commonly believed that depression was most closely related to weight loss in this demographic. However, the study found that depression, along with agitation and rejection of care did not increase the elderly’s risk of losing weight.
Weight loss is a serious threat to the elderly’s health because it increases their risk for hip fractures, pressure sores, infections, anemia, fatigue, and even mortality. In Alzheimer’s victims in particular, weight loss can lead to a rapid cognitive decline. Therefore, in order to prevent these possible complications, it is important for nursing home caregivers to monitor residents’ weight closely.
This study is significant because it equips nursing home staff with new ways to detect and prevent deterioration in the health of their residents. Subjects in this study who displayed apathetic behavior lost more weight in the following three months than those who did not. This means that if such behavior is counteracted early enough, weight loss can be prevented. It is important to emphasize that there are many non-pharmacological methods to eradicate apathy. First, it is important that nursing homes have enough staff to keep a close watch on residents in order to detect any dulled emotional responses, indifference, poor social engagement or other symptoms of apathy. Also, caregivers should seek ways to eliminate or limit the administration of psychoactive medications because some have been known to cause anorexia.
Sadly, many nursing homes are not properly staffed , leaving many apathetic residents undiagnosed and at risk of weight loss. Apathy is not a behavioral issue like agitation or depression, as it does not cause any disturbance to other residents or staff, making it easier to ignore or leave untreated. However, the long term implications of ignoring apathy due to improper staffing are a serious decline in resident health. Furthermore, improper staffing and poor quality of care at a facility can exacerbate a resident’s apathy. This is why it is necessary for nursing home staff to be properly trained so as to provide the residents with emotional and psychological comfort. It is also important to emphasize that there are many strategies that nursing home staff may use to decrease the prevalence of apathy. Engaging the elderly in simple activities, such as listening to live interactive music or adding cognitive stimulation, have been known to counteract the effects of apathy. In those whose apathy was properly treated through activity engagement, weight loss was curbed and turned into a healthy weight gain.