Alzheimer’s Disease Patients Retain Emotions After Memory Loss

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

Share this article:

Share article via email
senior care

A group of researchers have recently discovered Alzheimer’s patients’ unusual ability to retain emotion despite memory loss. According to the findings of their study, which is now available in the September 2014 issue of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, patients with Alzheimer’s disease may not remember visits from loved ones, or neglect/abuse, but the emotions they felt during these instances linger and can greatly affect their overall emotional state.

This study from the University of Iowa involved showing 17 patients and a healthy control group sad and happy movie clips, which successfully triggered appropriate expressions of emotion such as sorrow and tears, or smiling and laughter. After the viewing, all participants were given a memory test to see how well they could recall the clips they had just seen. Those with Alzheimer’s had considerably less or no retention at all, but they reported feeling either sadness or happiness up to 30 minutes after the viewing. In fact, those who remembered less felt the emotion for a longer time, with sadness lasting the longest.

The study’s lead author, Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, who is a doctoral student in clinical psychology, said that these findings confirm the disease does not reduce patients’ emotional capacity. Daniel Tranel, a professor of neurology and psychology, explains that this study supports their previous 2010 paper on the importance of tending to the emotional needs of Alzheimer’s patients. The new findings have significant implications for how patient’s significant others and attending health care providers relate with them, as well as underscore the importance of positive patient activities such as singing, dancing, and crafting, to name a few.

Another study that shows how badly Alzheimer’s patients are misunderstood was conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association, which revealed 59% of those surveyed believe that the disease is a normal part of aging, and 40% do not think Alzheimer’s is deadly. This includes data from 12 countries, and was conducted as part of the inaugural Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month last June.