Sep 8, 2016

The Importance of Positive Feelings and Conversation in Alzheimer's Care

Alzheimer's patients might forget a joke or a meaningful conversation -- but even so, the warm feelings associated with the experience can stick around and boost their mood.

Positive Feelings improve Alzheimer's care and Dementia Care

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I have written before about the cumulative acts we perform each day, and how each of these acts can, and do, effect the attitude and behavior  of a person living with Alzheimer's or a related dementia.

Have you actively considered this?

Feel happy.

If you can make your loved one feel happy, then it is less likely that they are going to be mean. It is also harder to say no, and mean it, when a person is in a good mood.

This study below indicates that feelings of happiness linger. So even though a person living with Alzheimer's disease might not be evidencing a feeling of happiness on their face, they could still be feeling happy inside. I believe this.

This makes perfect good sense to me. I was always trying to engage Dotty in some conversation that put her in a good mood. Here is a simple example.

I would say, Dotty look out the window at the trees with the flowers on them. Dotty looks and responds - they are beautiful. We have these beautiful Oleander trees with white and pink flowers right outside our big kitchen window.

Dotty would usually go on to say that they bloomed out of nowhere and additional positive comments. They really did mesmerize her, and make her feel happy. The good news is they were new to Dotty every day.

Since every day was brand new for Dotty, I could go through this routine each day at breakfast (and sometimes lunch, and dinner). Pretty much the same conversation every day.

My Alzheimer's caregiver goal was simple and straightforward,

if Dotty was happy, Bobby was happy.

Pretty simple equation don't you think?

Another good example was the introduction of the Harvey into our lives. The original goal was to make Dotty laugh, I could never have imagined that they would become good friends. Harvey and Dotty engaged in conversation several hours a day. This impacted Dotty's behavior and demeanor positively, and that was how I learned about the importance of discussion in Alzheimer's care.

Harvey made Dotty happy. And, he paid attention to her, and listened to her.

The point here -- the study below indicates that feelings of happiness can linger inside a person living with Alzheimer's disease. The simple effort to point out the beautiful flowers on the trees set Dotty up for a good day. A feeling of happiness inside.

This study also indicates that a simple phone call can have a positive influence on the patients.

For those of you that have been here for a while, you will recall that I wrote previously about how Dotty could go from being Zombie like to very happy and giddy when she received a phone call. At the time, many of you offered to call her and cheer her up.

This study indicates by fostering positive feelings and conversation you can change the attitude of someone living with Alzheimer's disease.

By putting on television shows that make them laugh you might be able to cause lingering feelings of happiness. Even if it is not obvious to you.

I suggest, you go out of your way to create happiness with your loved one.

If you do this over and over, day after day, the feelings of happiness might start to linger. I believe the cumulative effect worked for us. In others words, you need to be aware of this and be working on it every day.

Look at it this way. You make the effort over time to create feelings of happiness, and it is you the caregiver that benefits the most. A happy Alzheimer's person is easier to deal with then one that is unhappy.

A happy Alzheimer's caregivers gives off happy vibes to the patient. Its like a great big circle of happiness.

The study also indicates that leaving the patient alone or neglecting them, can make them feel sad, lonely, and frustrated.

If you do this, you are already paying a big price in terms of your own mental well being, and feelings of happiness and sadness.

It really is up to you -- the caregiver. You get to decide what a day is going to be like for you and the person living with dementia.

A University of Iowa study offers some good news for caregivers and loved ones of individuals with Alzheimer's disease. Patients might forget a joke or a meaningful conversation -- but even so, the warm feelings associated with the experience can stick around and boost their mood.

For the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers showed individuals with memory loss clips of happy and sad movies. Although the participants couldn't recall what they had watched, they retained the emotions elicited by the clips.

Justin Feinstein, lead study author and a UI doctoral student in clinical neuropsychology, says the discovery has direct implications for Alzheimer's disease.

"A simple visit or phone call from family members might have a lingering positive influence on a patient's happiness even though the patient may quickly forget the visit or phone call," Feinstein said.

"On the other hand, routine neglect from staff at nursing homes may leave the patient feeling sad, frustrated and lonely even though the patient can't remember why."

After watching a film and after a memory test, patients answered questions to gauge their emotions.

"Indeed, they still felt the emotion. Sadness tended to last a bit longer than happiness, but both emotions lasted well beyond their memory of the films," Feinstein said. "With healthy people, you see feelings decay as time goes on. In two patients, the feelings didn't decay; in fact, their sadness lingered."

These findings challenge the popular notion that erasing a painful memory can abolish psychological suffering.

"What this research suggests is that we need to start setting a scientifically informed standard of care for patients with memory disorders. Here is clear evidence showing that the reasons for treating Alzheimer's patients with respect and dignity go beyond simple human morals."

More on Positive Thinking

Positive Thoughts Drive the Dementia Caregiving Experience

Alzheimer's World and the Positive That Comes With It

The Importance of Positive Thinking in Dementia Care

Learn More from These Topics Pages

The Connection Between UTI and Worsening Dementia

Coping with Alzheimer's

Memory Care

Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob is a recognized expert, writer, speaker, and influencer in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Community worldwide.

Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room

"I now include the Alzheimer's Reading Room in my list of caregiver resources for every dementia patient I work with. My colleagues are doing the same. The ARR is a fantastic resource. The writing is clear and jargon-free. The many experts who contribute to this site also keep the content up-to-date and useful." 
Rita Jablonski, Director, National Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence at UAB