Neuromodulation for Apathy in Alzheimer's Disease: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Sham-Controlled Pilot Study

J Alzheimers Dis. 2020;77(4):1483-1493. doi: 10.3233/JAD-200640.


Background: Apathy, a profound loss of motivation, initiation, and goal directed cognition, is a common comorbidity of Alzheimer's disease (AD). The presence of apathy is associated with rapid progression of AD, long-term impairment, disability, and higher mortality. Pharmacological treatments of apathy are limited.

Objective: The primary objective was to evaluate the efficacy of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) for apathy in AD.

Methods: A randomized, double-blind, parallel-arm, sham-controlled pilot study was conducted in subjects with AD and apathy (N = 20). Subjects were randomized to rTMS or sham treatment (5 days/week) for four weeks. Primary outcome, apathy evaluation scale-clinician version (AES-C), and secondary outcome measures, modified-Mini Mental State Examination (3MS), instrumental activities of daily living (IADL), and clinical global impression (CGI), were assessed at baseline and four weeks. Follow-up visits were conducted at 8 and 12 weeks to test the durability of effects of intervention.

Results: Mean age was 77.3 (±7.2) years, 80% were Caucasians and 10% were females. After adjusting for baseline, there was a significantly greater improvement in the AES-C with rTMS compared to sham treatment (-10.1 (-15.9 to -4.3); t (16) = -3.69; p = 0.002) at 4 weeks. There was also significantly greater improvement in 3MS (6.9 (1.7 to 12.0); t (15) = 2.85; p = 0.012), IADL (3.4 (1.0 to 5.9); χ21 = 7.72; p = 0.006), CGI-S (1.4 (0.5 to 2.3), t (16) = 3.29; p = 0.005), and CGI-I (-2.56 (-3.5 to -1.6), t (17) = -5.72; p < 0.001) for rTMS compared to the sham at 4 weeks. The effects of rTMS were durable at 12 weeks.

Conclusion: rTMS may be safely used in subjects with AD and may improve apathy, function, and some aspects of cognition.

Trial registration: NCT02190084.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; apathy; behavioral problems in dementia; repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy*
  • Apathy* / physiology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*

Associated data