Conditions

Alzheimer's Patients Still Feel Strong Emotions, Despite Fading Memories: Why Caretakers Matter

Alzheimer's
Providing Alzheimer's patients with emotional care and support even when their memory has faded is essential to giving them a higher quality of life. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Alzheimer's is a debilitating mental disease that wipes out memories, but it's not enough to erase the lasting impact of feelings and sense of social connection, according to a new study out of the University of Iowa.

Even though it may seem like Alzheimer's patients can't differentiate between you and other caretakers in the later stages, the research underlines the importance of emotionally supporting those living with the disease. The researchers believe the influence of positive care-taking and emotional support for Alzheimer's patients goes a long way. While these patients may not remember the most recent visit from loved ones, those feelings will still remain; caring actions can have a lasting impact.

The authors of the study discovered this after showing Alzheimer's patients clips of happy and sad movies, and seeing that the patients sustained emotional states of either happiness or sadness despite the fact that they couldn't remember the movies. “This confirms that the emotional life of an Alzheimer's patient is alive and well,” Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, a doctoral student in clinical psychology and an author of the study, said in the press release. Interestingly, the patients who remembered less of the movies experienced longer sadness.

In other words, providing patients with small joys really does make a difference — even if you automatically assume they won't remember these things. While Alzheimer's patients' ability to retain memories, languages, or reasoning might deteriorate, their ability to feel emotions and sense other people's emotions remains strong even at the end.

In a previous study, fellow authors Daniel Tranel of University of Iowa and Justin Feinstein of the University of Tulsa studied the emotional needs of Alzheimer's patients, stating that it was extremely important to pay attention to these as the number of people living with the disease is expected to increase to some 16 million by 2050. Other research has shown that the emotions of Alzheimer's patients mimics that of people around them. So if you're ever caring for an Alzheimer's patient, remember that every little action counts in providing them with a happy environment.

“Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter,” Guzmán-Vélez said in the press release. “Frequent visits and social interactions, exercise, music, dance, jokes, and serving patients their favorite foods are all simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient's qualify of life and subjective well-being.”

Source: Guzmán-Vélez E, Feinstein J, Tranel D. "Feelings Without Memory in Alzheimer Disease." Cognitive & Behavioral Neurology, 2014.

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