Alzheimer’s: Emotions Stay After Memories Disappear

In a study, Alheimer’s patients felt sad or happy after watching video clips, long after forgetting they had ever seen the video. The research team says that these results show that a person’s actions towards the alzheimer’s patients make an impact; therefore, a loved one or caregiver need to provide a nurturing and pleasant environment that fosters positive emotional responses.

Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, a psychology researcher at the University at Iowa and the head researcher for this study, says that “we might think our actions don’t have an effect because the person might not remember us or what we did – let’s say they may not remember that we bought them their favorite ice cream or that we showed them their favorite movie or that we screamed at them, but it is important, it is having an effect…they might not be able to tell you what happened but the emotions that those actions elicited are still there.”    services_inner

In 2010, Guzmán-Vélez and her peers found that people with neurological damage to the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain, were still able to feel emotions associated to an event that happened even if they couldn’t remember the event itself.

In the study, Guzmán-Vélez had seventeen people with early Alzheimer’s disease and seventeen healthy people. The researchers asked the people to say how they felt right then before watching eight scenes from movies or television shows designed to make them feel sad. After watching the series shown the participants would say whether they felt happy, sad, very happy or very sad.  Immediately after the clips ended, the participants were asked about how they felt. The participants were asked about their emotions and were given a memory test about the clips after five minutes, fifteen minutes, and thirty minutes.

The Alzheimer’s patients remembered a great deal less than the healthy patients, yet both groups reported parallel levels of sadness from the movie clips that lasted for thirty minutes. Furthermore, the researchers found that the less the Alzheimer’s patients remembered, the longer the sadness lasted.

“I really hope that caregivers get the message,” Guzmán-Vélez said. Caregivers can feel frustrated at times and feel like they’re wasting their time.  “But it really does matter and every single thing that they do may be having an impact on the person and it matters — it’s important,”

Dr. Zaldy Tan, director of the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program says that he thinks “the important message here is that people who take care of people with memory problems, even those with early-stage dementia, should be aware that situations and emotions may profoundly impact the person they’re caring for.”