I read about an interesting study today that found those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s may try to mimic the emotions of those around them. The results suggest that it is in the best interest of caregivers and family members to try to maintain a calm and positive demeanor in the presence of those with dementia. I know, easier said than done, right! Still, it is interesting to wonder if the emotional disturbances and changes are a result of Alzheimer’s patients becoming more sensitive to the emotions of those around them. And anyone who has dealt with someone with Alzheimer’s knows that there is a great deal of anxiety, frustration and sadness, especially early on before proper coping mechanisms are developed. The condition has a name: emotional contagion.
I’m not sure I witnessed my dad mimic other’s behavior but I did notice his excessive attempts at “fitting in” or being part of a conversation or situation. He would try to make a relevant comment but I could tell by his eyes that he had no clue what Mom and I were discussing. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this stage of the disease is actually more heartbreaking to me than later on, when many patients “disappear” emotionally. Once Dad entered the nursing home, he was heavily medicated as most dementia patients are, which tends to turn one into a zombie. I struggled more with Dad trying to be upbeat and tell jokes even while he was clearly losing his mind than the sullen, withdrawn shell of a person he became in the nursing home.
Whether the person with dementia mirrors the emotions of others are not, it of course is best for everyone if a calm and stable atmosphere is maintained. That’s not to say you should beat yourself up if you show exasperation in front of your loved one with dementia. It happens, we’re human. But even while dementia strips away abilities and memories, it may magnify sensitivity in other areas that before we have ignored.