Emotions Linger After Forgotten Events In Alzheimer’s Patients

A new study suggests that people with Alzheimer's can hold on to happy or sad feelings, even if they forget what triggered them. NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with the study's author, Edmarie Guzman-Velez.


A new study suggests people with Alzheimer's may keep feeling happy or sad even after they've forgotten why they feel that way. Researchers played movies for patients, like "When Harry Met Sally" or "Sophie's Choice." Five minutes later, many people forgot that they had seen the movie, but their feelings remained.

Edmarie Guzman-Velez is one of the study's authors. She's at the University of Iowa and joins us from Iowa Public Radio. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: This is just one study. But if it's findings bear out, what possibilities do you envision it opening up for treating Alzheimer's patients?

GUZMAN-VELEZ: So the next step would be to focus interventions in inducing positive emotions and trying to decrease negative ones - music, dancing and so on.

SHAPIRO: So it's making people who have Alzheimer's feel better even if it's not treating the underlying disease.

GUZMAN-VELEZ: Exactly. But right now, we don't have any cure or way of preventing it. Therefore right now we're trying to improve the quality of life of those who are already diagnosed with the disease.

SHAPIRO: I understand that in this experiment sad feelings lasted longer for people than the happy feelings did.


SHAPIRO: And what was that like to observe - people who felt some way without remembering why?

GUZMAN-VELEZ: It's very interesting. And you would think in order to feel something you need to remember first. You know, all of these people that say it doesn't matter if I don't visit my grandma because she won't remember -and it just shows it does matter. Our actions do matter.

SHAPIRO: You're a young person, a graduate student at the University of Iowa. Why did you decide to study Alzheimer's patients?

GUZMAN-VELEZ: I've only been very interested in memory. Right now I think about my life, and it's all based on memories. And I cannot imagine living without remembering everything that's happened to me. In addition to that, I've had some family members diagnosed with the disease, and that kind of gives me that extra motivation to learn more about interventions that can improve their quality of life - not only the patient's quality of life, but their caregiver's quality of life.

SHAPIRO: Does this study make you think differently about how you'll interact with your family members who have Alzheimer's?

GUZMAN-VELEZ: Of course, yes. And it gives me that extra reward I guess to know that every thing that I do is impacting them. And it does make me try to be a better person with them or try to give them good experiences 'cause I know that will make them happy and that happiness will last for a long time.

SHAPIRO: That's Edmarie Guzman-Velez, author of a study on Alzheimer's patients showing they feel emotions even after they have forgotten what made them feel happy or sad. Thanks so much for joining us.

GUZMAN-VELEZ: Thank you.

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