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Dementia associated apathy

Skin coductance and heart rate as biomarkers to uncover vovert emotional reactions in patients with dementia associated apathy

At a glance

  • Project leader : Prof. Dr. Heidrun Karin Becker
  • Co-project leader : Prof. Dr. Yvonne Treusch
  • Deputy of project leader : Silke Neumann
  • Project status : completed
  • Funding partner : Foundation (Stiftung für Ergotherapie Zürich), Other (Alzheimer Schweiz)
  • Contact person : Brigitte Gantschnig


The lack of overt behaviour in individuals exhibiting dementia-associated apathy is not only stressful to family members and caregivers, it is also a major challenge for medical and nursing staff. Knowing whether apathy arises from an impaired function of the neural network of affect due to neurodegenerative processes accompanying dementia provides a neural explanation of this condition.Somatic indicators of affective responses (e.g., changes in skin conductance or heart rate) are an effective means to uncover covert emotional responses in nursing home residents suffering from dementia associated apathy.

The overall objective of this study is to determine whether dementia associated apathy is the result of an impaired functioning of the neural macro-network of affect.

Our study design involves a single measurement session, during which the participant’s skin conductance and heart rate will be recorded continuously while patients are viewing a series of images on a computer screen. We use images of the "International Affective Picture System (IAPS)" mixed with images with biographical contents.The sequence of images eliciting different emotional reactions will be presented in a randomised order, with each image present for 15s followed by 15s of a neutral background. The entire sequence runs continuously for 15 minutes. Measurements will be conducted in a familiar environment and in the presence of a family member or a member of staff to avoid any kind of stress and concern for the participant.