Pharmacological Management of Apathy in Dementia

CNS Drugs. 2022 Feb;36(2):143-165. doi: 10.1007/s40263-021-00883-0. Epub 2022 Jan 10.


Apathy is a highly prevalent symptom of dementia. Despite its association with faster cognitive and functional decline, decreased quality of life and increased mortality, no therapies are currently approved to treat apathy. The objective of this review was to summarize the drugs that have been studied for apathy treatment in patients with dementia (specifically Alzheimer's disease [AD], Huntington's disease [HD] and Parkinson's disease [PD] dementia; dementia with Lewy bodies [DLB]; vascular dementia [VaD]; and frontotemporal dementia [FTD]) based on their putative mechanisms of action. A search for relevant studies was performed using and PubMed. Eligible studies were randomized controlled trials that were available in English and included at least one drug intervention and an apathy measure scale. A total of 52 studies that included patients with AD (n = 33 studies), PD (n = 5), HD (n = 1), DLB (n = 1), FTD (n = 3), VaD (n = 1), VaD and AD (n = 4), VaD and mixed dementia (n = 1), and AD, VaD and mixed dementia (n = 3) were eligible for inclusion. These studies showed that methylphenidate, olanzapine, cholinesterase inhibitors, choline alphoscerate, citalopram, memantine, and mibampator are the only beneficial drugs in AD-related apathy. For PD-related apathy, only methylphenidate, rotigotine and rivastigmine showed benefits. Regarding FTD- and DLB-related apathy, initial studies with agomelatine and rivastigmine showed benefits, respectively. As for HD- and only-VaD-related apathy, no drugs demonstrated benefits. With regards to mixed populations, memantine, galantamine and gingko biloba showed effects on apathy in the AD plus VaD populations and nimodipine in the VaD plus mixed dementia populations. Of the drugs with positive results, some are already prescribed to patients with dementia to target other symptoms, some have characteristics-such as medical contraindications (e.g., cardiovascular) and adverse effects (e.g., gastrointestinal disturbances)-that limit their clinical use and some require further study. Future studies should investigate apathy as a primary outcome, making use of appropriate sample sizes and study durations to ensure durability of results. There should also be a consensus on using scales with high test/retest and interrater reliabilities to limit the inconsistencies between clinical trials. In conclusion, there are currently no US FDA-approved drugs that target apathy in dementia, so there is an ongoing need for the development of such drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apathy / drug effects*
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / pharmacology*
  • Dementia* / classification
  • Dementia* / drug therapy
  • Dementia* / psychology
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology
  • Drug Development
  • Humans
  • Patient Selection
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Adjustment / methods
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / pharmacology


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors