This narrative review describes the clinical features of apathy and depression in individuals with neurocognitive disorders (NCDs), with the goal of differentiating the two syndromes on the basis of clinical presentation, diagnostic criteria, neuropathological features, and contrasting responses to treatments.
Literature was identified using PubMed, with search terms to capture medical conditions of interest; additional references were also included based on our collective experience and knowledge of the literature.
Evidence from current literature supports the distinction between the two disorders; apathy and depression occur with varying prevalence in individuals with NCDs, pose different risks of progression to dementia, and have distinct, if overlapping, neurobiological underpinnings. Although apathy is a distinct neuropsychiatric syndrome, distinguishing apathy from depression can be challenging, as both conditions may occur concurrently and share several overlapping features. Apathy is associated with unfavorable outcomes, especially those with neurodegenerative etiologies (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease) and is associated with an increased burden for both patients and caregivers. Diagnosing apathy is important not only to serve as the basis for appropriate treatment, but also for the development of novel targeted interventions for this condition. Although there are currently no approved pharmacologic treatments for apathy, the research described in this review supports apathy as a distinct neuropsychiatric condition that warrants specific treatments aimed at alleviating patient disability.
Despite differences between these disorders, both apathy and depression pose significant challenges to patients, their families, and caregivers; better diagnostics are needed to develop more tailored treatment and support.

© 2023 The Authors. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.