What is Abulia?

Human brain
Strokes affecting the frontal lobes can cause abulia. Stefan Schulze/E+/Getty Images


Abulia, also known as aboulia, is a state of diminished motivation. An individual who experiences abulia may show symptoms that range from subtle to overwhelming in levels of severity, with mutism the most extreme form. Abulia most commonly accompanies a neurologic or psychologic disorder.

Symptoms of Abulia

There is debate as to whether abulia is a symptom or sign of another disease or whether it appears with other well-known diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Typical symptoms may include the following:

  • Apathy
  • Disinterest
  • Asocial
  • Extreme quiet or muteness
  • Physical slowness
  • Lack of spontaneity
  • Emotionally remote
  • Difficulty in making decisions or plans
  • Chewing food for long periods of time without swallowing

Causes of Abulia

Damage to the circuits of the frontal lobes of the brain that impact the dopaminergic system, is thought to be the cause of abulia. Most patients displaying symptoms of abulia have experienced the following conditions:

Abulia is clinically distinct from depression in that patients with abulia typically do not exhibit signs of sadness or negative thoughts. Instead they exhibit lack of concern about their condition or the relatives around them. Therefore, patients with abulia do not respond well to antidepressants.

Diagnosis of Abulia

Diagnosis of abulia is difficult. The best way for it to be diagnosed is through clinical observation of the patient and questioning close family members about the patient’s behavior. In some cases of abulia, diagnostic imaging with a CT scan or MRI has been able to show localized brain lesions, one of the main causes of abulia.

Treatment of Abulia

Drugs that have an effect on the dopaminergic system have shown positive results to motivation although there is no treatment licensed for the condition at this time. Controlling seizures or headaches, physical or cognitive rehabilitation are steps that can be taken to increase motivation in patients affected with this condition.

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