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Apathy May Be Core Feature of Parkinson Disease

Study finds patients can be apathetic without being depressed

TUESDAY, July 11 (HealthDay News) -- Parkinson disease patients can be apathetic in the absence of depression, according to a new study published in the July 11 issue of Neurology.

Lindsey Kirsch-Darrow, M.S., of the University of Florida in Gainesville, and colleagues evaluated 80 patients with Parkinson disease and 20 patients with dystonia, for both depression and apathy. They found that 51 percent of Parkinson disease patients were apathetic, compared with 20 percent of dystonia patients. Moreover, 28.8 percent of Parkinson patients were apathetic and not depressed. By contrast, none of the dystonia patients showed signs of apathy in the absence of depression. Researchers conclude that apathy may be a core symptom of Parkinson disease.

Clinicians should screen for both apathy and depression among Parkinson's patients so that patients can receive appropriate treatment, the authors conclude. Families and caregivers also need to be educated about apathy so that they understand it is a feature of the disease and not under the patient's control.

"The recognition that apathy can be present without depression is important so that we do not inappropriately diagnose and treat a depressive disorder that is not present," writes Irene Hegeman Richard, M.D., of the University of Rochester in New York, in an accompanying editorial.

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