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Alzheimer's Patients Do Forget But Can Still Retain Happy Feelings

Posted May 24 2014 11:42am
Alzheimer's patients might forget a joke or a meaningful conversation -- but even so, the warm feelings associated with the experience can stick around and boost their mood.

Bob De Marco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Alzheimer

I have written before about the cumulative acts we perform each day, and how each of these acts can, and do, effect the attitude and behavior  of a person living with Alzheimer's  or a related dementia.

Have you actively considered this?

Feel happy.

Those are the key words. If you can make your loved one feel happy, then it is less likely that they are going to be mean. It is also harder to say no, and mean it, when you are in a good mood.

This study below indicates that feelings of happiness linger. So even though a person living with Alzheimer's disease might not be evidencing a feeling of happiness on their face, they could still be feeling happy inside.

I believe this.

This makes perfect good sense to me. I was always trying to engage Dotty in some conversation that put her in a good mood.

Here is a simple example.

I would say, Dotty look out the window at the trees with the flowers on them. Dotty looks and responds, wow, they are beautiful. We have these beautiful Oleander trees with white and pink flowers right outside our big kitchen window.

Dotty will usually go on to say that they bloomed out of nowhere and additional positive comments. They really do mesmerize her, and make her feel happy. The good news is they are new to Dotty every day.

Since every day was brand new for Dotty, I could go through this routine each day at breakfast (and sometimes lunch, and dinner). Pretty much the same conversation every day.

My Alzheimer's caregiver goal was simple and straightforward,

if Dotty was happy, Bobby was happy. 
Pretty simple equation don't you think?

Another good example was the introduction of the repeat parrot Harvey  into our lives. The original goal was to make Dotty laugh, I could never have imagined that they would become friends.

Harvey and Dotty engaged in conversation several hours a day. This impacted Dotty's behavior and demeanor positively, and that was how I learned about the importance of discussion in Alzheimer's care.

Harvey made Dotty happy. And, he paid attention to her, and listened to her.

The point here, the study below indicates that feelings of happiness can linger inside a person living with Alzheimer's disease.  The simple effort to point out the beautiful flowers on the trees set Dotty up for a good day. A feeling of happiness inside.

This study also indicates that a simple phone call can have a positive influence on the patients. 
For those of you that have been here for a while, you will recall that I wrote previously about how Dotty can go from being Zombie like to very happy and giddy when she receives a phone call. Many of you offered to call her and cheer her up.

This study indicates by fostering positive feelings and conversation you can change the attitude of someone suffering from Alzheimer's disease. 
By putting on television shows that make them laugh you might be able to cause lingering feelings of happiness. Even if it is not obvious to you.

I suggest, you go out of your way to create happiness with your loved one. 

If you do this over and over, day after day, the feelings of happiness might start to linger. I believe the cumulative effect is worked for us. In others words, you need to be aware of this and be working on it every day.

Look at it this way. You make the effort over time to create feeling of happiness, and it is you the caregiver that benefits the most. A happy Alzheimer's person is easier to deal with then one that is unhappy.

A happy Alzheimer's caregivers gives off happy vibes to the patient. Its like a great big circle of happiness.

The study also indicates that leaving the patient alone or neglecting them, can make them feel sad, lonely, and frustrated. 
If you do this, you are already paying a big price in terms of your own mental well being, and feelings of happiness and sadness.

It really is up to you -- the caregiver. You get to decide what a day is going to be like for you and the person living with dementia.

________________________

Patients with amnesia still feel emotions, despite memory loss
A new University of Iowa study offers some good news for caregivers and loved ones of individuals with Alzheimer's disease. Patients might forget a joke or a meaningful conversation -- but even so, the warm feelings associated with the experience can stick around and boost their mood.

For the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers showed individuals with memory loss clips of happy and sad movies. Although the participants couldn't recall what they had watched, they retained the emotions elicited by the clips.

Justin Feinstein, lead study author and a UI doctoral student in clinical neuropsychology, says the discovery has direct implications for Alzheimer's disease.

"A simple visit or phone call from family members might have a lingering positive influence on a patient's happiness even though the patient may quickly forget the visit or phone call," Feinstein said. 
"On the other hand, routine neglect from staff at nursing homes may leave the patient feeling sad, frustrated and lonely even though the patient can't remember why."

Feinstein conducted the study with UI neuroscience faculty members Daniel Tranel, Ph.D., UI professor of neurology and psychology, and Melissa Duff, Ph.D., UI assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders.

The researchers studied five rare neurological patients with damage to their hippocampus, a part of the brain that's critical for transferring short-term memories into long-term storage. Damage to the hippocampus prevents new memories from being acquired.

This same type of amnesia is an early sign of Alzheimer's disease.

The experiment started with an emotion-induction technique using powerful film clips. Each amnesic patient viewed 20 minutes of either sad or happy movies on separate days. The movies triggered the appropriate emotion, ranging from intense bouts of laughter during happy films to tears of sorrow during sad ones.

About 10 minutes after the clip ended, researchers gave patients a memory test to see if they could recall what they had watched. As expected, the patients were extremely impaired. A healthy person recalls about 30 details from each clip, but one patient couldn't recall a single detail.

After the memory test, patients answered questions to gauge their emotions.

"Indeed, they still felt the emotion. Sadness tended to last a bit longer than happiness, but both emotions lasted well beyond their memory of the films," Feinstein said. "With healthy people, you see feelings decay as time goes on. In two patients, the feelings didn't decay; in fact, their sadness lingered."

These findings challenge the popular notion that erasing a painful memory can abolish psychological suffering. They also reinforce the importance of attending to the emotional needs of people with Alzheimer's, which is expected to affect as many as 100 million people worldwide by 2050.

"Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's, and there's currently no cure," Feinstein said. "What we're about to face is an epidemic. We're going to have more and more baby boomers getting older, and more and more people with Alzheimer's disease. The burden of care for these individuals is enormous.

"What this research suggests is that we need to start setting a scientifically informed standard of care for patients with memory disorders. Here is clear evidence showing that the reasons for treating Alzheimer's patients with respect and dignity go beyond simple human morals."

The study was funded by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Kiwanis International Foundation.

Here is the link to the study abstract -- Sustained experience of emotion after loss of memory in patients with amnesia

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Bob DeMarco Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized expert, writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide. The ARR Knowledge Base contains more than 4,600 articles. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.
Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room
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