Alzheimer’s patients able to feel emotion even after memory as faded

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A study has shown that those suffering with Alzheimer’s continue feeling sad or happy long after they have forgotten watching a film which stirred these emotions.

Researchers state that Alzheimer’s patients are deeply affected emotionally by events which they cannot remember and this has implications for family members and carers. They found that the worse the memory of the patient, the longer the feeling of sadness may prevail. This suggests that not being able to remember why you are sad, makes it more difficult to overcome the feeling.

One participant in the study said she felt like all her feelings and emotions were building up in her. This left her feeling extremely confused.

The authors of the study stated that this persistence of intense negative emotions and the inability of the patient to find a logical reason for her feelings show the confusion a patient with the disease could experience.

This goes against popular belief that if a painful memory is erased, the depression will also be lifted.

There are approximately 850000 suffering dementia in the UK, of which two thirds have Alzheimer’s. This figure is expected to increase to two million by 2051.
The study involved 17 Alzheimer’s patients who were asked to watch one sad and one happy film. They were then tested to determine how much of the film they were able to remember. They were also asked to score their emotions over a period of time.

These results were compared to a similar group of healthy people.

Some of the Alzheimer’s patients had no recollection of watching a film at all, yet they described the emotions that were triggered by it and that the effects lasted for about half an hour.

The lead author of the study, from the Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, said the study indicates that actions towards these patients have consequences, even if the patient appears not to remember those actions. She said that actions could have a lasting effect on the feelings of the patients. There are many older adults in nursing homes and those with AD who are victims of physical and verbal abuse by caregivers or staff. The mistreatment of patients may explain the increases in psychiatric symptoms and the feelings of loneliness evident in people who have been moved to a nursing home.

She added that the findings of the research suggest that although Alzheimer’s patients may not remember the incidences of maltreatment, they could continue to experience the negative emotions brought about by these events.

The fact that the feelings of the patients persist, even if they cannot clearly remember why they have those feelings, places focus on the requirement to avoid causing such negative feeling and to try and promote positive feelings with social interactions, frequent visits, jokes, music, dance, exercise and being given their favourite meals.

She stated that these findings should empower caregivers by indicating to them that their actions to these patients are important and can influence the quality of life and well-being of the patient.

Image Credit: craig Cloutier

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