Monday, December 10, 2018

Alzheimer's Dementia Emotional Communication (Research)

Have you ever seen an uplifting movie or heard a passionate song that stirs up rousing emotions when you experience them years later? Those remaining feelings are wonderful scars that continue to heal us as we age. Maybe you can’t remember the names of the movie, the song, the actors, or the singers. But the feelings they generated in a sacred place inside you still resonate.

I thought about this powerful retention of feelings when I read Alzheimer’s research about emotions that people with the disease have long after memories that caused them have disappeared. A sample of 17 participants with probable Alzheimer’s disease and 17 healthy comparison participants underwent separate emotion inducing procedures in which they watched film clips. The clips were intended to induce feelings of sadness or happiness. An evaluation of the emotions later revealed that participants with Alzheimer’s had severely impaired memories of both the sad and happy films. But they continued to report high levels of persisting sadness and happiness beyond their memory of the actual films. The sadness associated with the films lasted more than 30 minutes. This research reminds us that the emotional lives of individuals with Alzheimer's dementia can be greatly influenced by experiences, people, and places they may not recall later.

Caregivers and others must be sensitive to making pleasant emotional memories when managing, interpreting, and responding to behaviors of those with dementia. Loved ones who avoid visiting them because “She doesn’t know who I am” or “I can’t deal with his confusion” must be mindful that the purpose of their presence has nothing to do with anyone's ability to remember anything or anybody, including them. People with dementia should not be greeted with a memory test (What’s my name?) they will probably fail. Names and relationships can easily be told to them.

Interactions with people who have dementia can refine our mastery of thinking outside the box by taking us to an Oz we can learn to respect. We should focus on spending quality time generating emotions that help them feel better and experience love even after our time with them has ended, and we have gone. And there is something in this quality time for us. We can leave with satisfying personal memories of pleasant emotions we inspired and can recall later, too.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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