Sharing love with Alzheimer’s patients

Sharing love with Alzheimer’s patients

Posted on February 25, 2015 by ElderCare Resources in Alzheimers Care, Blog, Caregiving, Dementia Care, Memory Loss

By: Karen Kaslow

Valentine’s Day. usually associated with romantic love, also reminds us of the importance of sharing love with all individuals close to our hearts.

Let’s remember Winnie the Pooh’s answer to Piglet’s query on how to spell love: “You don’t spell it . . . you feel it.”

Love, of course, means a sharing of one’s self with another individual. When Alzheimer’s disease is present, sharing love can become more difficult both for the healthy and affected individuals.

As memory fades and affected individuals become less able to recognize family members and friends, recall life experiences or verbally express themselves, demands of physical care might overshadow the demonstration of love.

In addition, family members and friends may wonder what effect their sharing of love will have on the affected individual, since he or she is unlikely to remember the event as soon as it has ended, or even fully understand what is happening, minute to minute, during the interaction.

Dr. Steven Sabat of Georgetown University’s Psychology Department explored the relationship between emotions and memory in Alzheimer’s victims and found that following a specific experience, people with the disease will demonstrate emotions associated with that experience, even though they cannot verbalize a memory of the experience itself.

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University of Iowa researchers conducting a study in which Alzheimer’s patients watched film clips about happy and sad events, concluded that the subjects’ feelings of sadness and happiness lasted “well beyond” their memories of even having viewed film clips.

The implications of these studies are clear. Emotional memories of recent events in the lives of individuals with Alzheimer’s outlast the memories of the occurrence or details of these events. Through sharing demonstrations of love with these individuals, we are contributing to a positive emotional state and improved quality of life.

While emotional memory appears to remain intact longer than declarative memory, such as recall of events or people, individuals with Alzheimer’s experience a decreased ability to regulate their emotions due to changes in particular areas of the brain. They also become more dependent on communicating through emotion when language and reasoning skills are lost to the disease and they become more emotionally sensitive to the moods of people around them.

Emotional state, whether their own or that of someone nearby, will affect behavior. When positive emotions of love and happiness are associated not only with special events, but also with the tasks of daily living, cooperation and participation improve, creating a win-win situation for both the caregiver and the recipient.

Do you know anyone with Alzheimer’s with whom you can share some time, attention and a little love this Valentine’s Day? That sharing might go a lot further than you would expect, and isn’t the experience of happy feelings more important than remembering the reason for those feelings?