Why There is a Lack of Empathy in People with Dementia

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerAugust 10, 2016

A new study may bring comfort to caregivers who are watching their loved ones undergo the personality changes that can come with a dementia diagnosis.

Learn more about this study that has linked actual changes in the brain to a lack of cognitive empathy in some people with a certain form of dementia.

Impaired Cognitive Empathy in People with Dementia

Researchers from Neuroscience Research Australia recently conducted a new study that evaluated the level of cognitive empathy in people with Alzheimer’s. The study included people with the disease, healthy people and people with the behavioral-variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). It has been noted that people with bvFTD undergo a startling change in personality marked by a lack of empathy and dulled emotions, meeting attempts at affection with confusion.

Researchers found that both the group with Alzheimer’s and the group with bvFTD had a reduced level of empathy, but that the participants with bvFTD were significantly more impaired when it came to identifying with the emotions and experiences of others. Researchers believe that the lack of empathy felt by the people with the disease was more related to their cognitive decline than actual impairment in empathy.

Researchers also noted that among the participants with bvFTD, the impaired level of empathy was directly correlated to fading grey matter in the area of brain responsible for social functioning.

New Findings Can Bring Renewed Comfort to Caregivers

The study was recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and may bring comfort to caregivers who have seen a lack of empathy first hand in their loved ones as their dementia progresses.

Lead author of the study, Muireann Irish, says that this study explains why people with Alzheimer’s can be socially appropriate as the disease progresses. She said,

“There isn’t the change in personality, which I think is one of the most jarring things about frontotemporal dementia patients. [This study] gives more knowledge and insight to the caregivers that there’s an organic reason for this change that becomes so distressing. Empathy is an abstract concept in a way. It’s not as easily quantified as memory loss or changes in language and it can be seen as a personality issue or somebody being deliberately unsympathetic, but this shows there’s a region in the brain that changes.”

Have you seen behavioral changes in your loved one with Alzheimer’s or other people with dementia that you care for? How have you found comfort and peace through the progression of the disease? Share your story with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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