I had always felt that I’d rather get anything in my old age than Alzheimer’s disease. My thoughts on it were all over the place – what if I have no idea who my kids were and what if they never visited me? I wouldn’t even know, right? What if I forgot that I was a lifelong vegetarian and ended up eating meat? Would the activity department make me watch the romantic comedies that I disliked and not know I loved dramas and action instead?
I’d be living in a maze of confusion and profound sadness – irrelevant now to the world that used to stop, look and listen when I had something to say. There would be no point in receiving any visitors at all, really. Not even my husband. I wouldn’t know who they were and in the end, it’d be like they had never come at all. And they would leave, feeling the same way. Why bother with these visits? What would be the point?
Turns out there is a huge point, according to one significant study. The University of Iowa conducted research to understand the effects of family visits, positive interactions and what a good time can do for a person with even the most severe amnesia.
During these tests, the demeanor and behaviors of patients were closely monitored after they had visitors, after watching comedies or sad movies, or had been subjected to ill-treatment by other people. After these events, the patients had no memory of them, yet their mood status was quite profoundly affected. They remained in high spirits long after friend and family visits, after comedies, love stories and being surrounded by positive staff. On the opposite end - sad movies, lack of friend or family contact and unsupportive nursing home staff left them feeling depressed, but with no idea why.
During the movies, the emotions of patients were appropriate. They laughed at comedies and cried at sad films. And of note – the sadness brought on by dark films, ill-treatment and loneliness lingered longer than the emotions derived by happy events. Somehow, sadness was the stronger emotion that remained.