An exploration of apatheia and the definition of apathy: Understanding people’s experience of apathy in Huntington’s disease

Sein, Kim

September 2019

Thesis or dissertation

© 2019 Kim Sein. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Apathy is broadly defined as a loss of motivation and seems to be a relatively common clinical problem in neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington’s disease. The definition and conceptualisation of apathy, however, is unstandardised, which leads to confusion about what precisely apathy is and how to identify it. This thesis sought to clarify the concept of apathy.
First, an etymological exploration of the concept of apatheia, including comparing it to its modern derivative, apathy, helped to give context to what apathy may be. Building on this, a systematic review looked at how apathy is defined and measured in clinical literature, finding a lack of standardisation but some common ground in terms of how recent authors have thought about apathy. Semi-structured interviews with people with apathy in Huntington’s disease, alongside measures of apathy, explored what it is like to experience apathy and found that people struggle with their identity following an experience of apathy. This led to the uncovering of two types of apathy; bewildered and empty apathy. These terms were discussed in relation to the work conducted in the previous chapters and compared with some of the conceptualisations of apathy in the literature. Directions for future research were discussed, with emphasis on identifying different apathy phenomena and using the positive elements of apatheia in helping to realign people’s identity. This would enable future work to concentrate on identifying appropriate treatment and management techniques to alleviate the burden of apathy in chronic illness.

Hull York Medical School, The University of Hull and the University of York
Marková, Ivana; Boland, Jason W.
Qualification level
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