Dr Campbell Le Heron – Predictors of apathy in Parkinson’s

Dr Campbell Le Heron received a $96,983 Major Project Grant from the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation for his project “Predictors of apathy in Parkinson’s disease”, which he recently completed.

Dr Le Heron reports the following outcomes:

“Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a brain disorder experienced by many people in our society. In addition to affecting movement, we now understand that ‘non-motor’ problems such as mood disturbance and impaired thinking have a major impact on quality of life for people with PD and their whānau.

One of these is apathy, or loss of motivation, but little is known about whether apathy occurs at particular stages of PD, and what factors might cause it.

Since 2007, the NZ Parkinson’s progression programme – based at the NZBRI in Christchurch – has been following people with PD over time, assessing them in multiple ways. With the support of the CMRF, we have used this rich source of information to better understand apathy in PD, using sophisticated statistical techniques.


We have found that apathy, in fact, occurs at all stages of Parkinson’s disease – including very early on – and affects more than a quarter of all people with PD. It is more common in men and those on lower doses of PD medications. It is also more common, and more likely to develop, in people who have depression or cognitive impairment, but often occurs in the absence of these factors.

Importantly, people with apathy have a higher risk of dying, even after allowing for other factors such as cognitive impairment.

This project unequivocally demonstrates that apathy is an important part of Parkinson’s disease, and provides a nuanced understanding of how apathy relates to other problems experienced by people with PD.

Developing effective strategies to treat apathy is a crucial unmet need for those involved in Parkinson’s research and care. The project also shows how using cutting-edge mathematical approaches to analyse complex datasets can answer important clinical questions, and provides a framework to apply these techniques to other problems in Parkinson’s disease and beyond.

I would like to sincerely thank the CMRF for providing this grant, and for their support, understanding and flexibility in administering this project. This attitude has allowed us to more than exceed our goals and establish a strong base for future work, both in Parkinson’s disease and for investigating apathy in other neurological conditions.

I am confident that the final outputs from this grant, which are mainly in the final stages of preparation, will have a significant impact at a national and international level, provide a strong basis for future projects and funding applications, and importantly have strengthened local researcher skillsets whilst at the same time forging new international collaborations.”

The Foundation is delighted to have been able to support Dr Le Heron’s project which will benefit many patients suffering from Parkinson’s and further our understanding of how apathy relates to this devastating disease.

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