How to treat apathy in traumatic brain injury

Man with Hand on His Face

Apathy is a term that refers to a general state of not caring-lack of initiative or drive, limited activity or energy, and no motivation to work towards goals. In traumatic brain injury, apathy is common; it's reported in as much as 71% of patients.

Traditionally, apathy has been detrimental to rehabilitation efforts because of the difficulties in getting the apathetic patient motivated enough to participate. And treatment of apathy itself has been extremely limited, with no guiding program for rehabilitation specialists to follow.

However, a recent experimental case study has shown that apathy can be treated effectively. The treatment used motivational interviewing techniques and external compensation in order to initiate and sustain goal-oriented behaviors. The motivational interviewing included one-on-one sessions where specific goals were created, progress was reviewed, and barriers were addressed. External compensation was provided in the form of reminder alerts in the patient's PDA.

The treatment not only significantly reduced the patient's apathy, it also improved his functional and cognitive scores as well. Although the treatment consumed a good deal of time and energy from the rehabilitation staff, the results showed that the investment of focused treatment could ultimately provide a more efficient rehabilitation program.

Lane-Brown A, & Tate R. Evaluation of an intervention for apathy after traumatic brain injury: A multiple-baseline, single-case experimental design. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. (April 2010).