Apathy: Risk Factor for Mortality in Nursing Home Patients

Johanna M.H. Nijsten, Ruslan Leontjevas, Ron Pat-El, Martin Smalbrugge, Raymond T.C.M. Koopmans, Debby L. Gerritsen

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Objectives: To determine the prognostic value of apathy for mortality in patients of somatic (SC) and dementia special care (DSC) nursing home (NH) units. Design: Longitudinal design, secondary analyses of a 2-year, cluster-randomized trial with six measurements, approximately 4 months in between. Setting: SC and DSC-units of Dutch NHs. Participants: NH-patients of seventeen SC-units (n = 342) and sixteen DCS-units (n = 371). Measurements: Data were available for 713 NH-patients, 266 of whom died during the study. Apathy was assessed using the 10-item Apathy Evaluation Scale (AES-10) and applied as categorical variable using known cut-off scores as well as dimensional variable. Additionally, depressive symptoms were assessed using the Cornell Scale for Depression in Dementia. Results: Mixed effects cox models using the coxme package in R revealed a higher risk of mortality between two measurements, if apathy was present (hazard ratio (HR) = 1.77; 95% confidence interval (CI] = 1.35–2.31, P <.001). Results remained significant (HR = 1.64; 95% CI = 1.23–2.19, P <.001) when controlled for depressive symptoms. DSC-units and SC-units did not differ (P >.05) in the effect of apathy on mortality. Male gender (HR = 1.67; 95% CI = 1.23–2.27, P <.001), and higher age in years (HR = 1.06; 95% CI = 1.04–1.08, P <.001) were also predictors of mortality. Regarding apathy as a dimensional construct, one standard deviation increase of AES-10 scores was associated with a 62% increase of mortality risk (HR = 1.62, 95% CI = 1.40–1.88, P <.001). Conclusions: Apathy was associated with mortality over a 4-month period in NH patients, even when controlling for depression. These data suggest that screening and treatment strategies for apathy should be developed for this patient population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2182-2189
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017


  • apathy
  • dementia care
  • depression
  • mortality
  • nursing home
  • risk factor
  • somatic

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