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Alzheimer's: Decreased Ability to Experience Emotions

Alzheimer's: Decreased Ability to Experience Emotions

A new study found that patients with Alzheimer's may have a decreased ability to experience emotions; that is, they do not feel emotions as deeply as their healthy peers. This finding in a small group of patients may be useful for doctors assessing whether Alzheimer's patients are clinically depressed.

The study suggests that when Alzheimer's patients are asked to place an emotional value on pictures, they measure the pleasant images as less pleasant and the negative scenes as less negative compared with a control group of normal elderly people. This emotional flatness could be incorrectly interpreted as a symptom of depression.

"We found that the Alzheimer's patients as a rule tend to go more toward the middle," said Kenneth Heilman, a professor of neurology at the College of Medicine and UF's McKnight Brain Institute. "They don't feel as positive toward the positive pictures or as negative toward the negative ones. They're not depressed, but their emotional experience appears to be flattened."

Further research is needed, but the findings could be valuable for clinicians trying to learn whether a patient is depressed as well as for families concerned about a loved one's apparent indifference.

The study presented seven patients with Alzheimer's disease pictures of positive and negative scenes, such as babies and spiders, and asked them to rate each picture. Patients recorded their emotional reaction to the picture by marking on a piece of paper with a happy face on one and a sad face on the other. The closer their mark was to either emoticon, the stronger they felt.
Most of the time they placed their mark in the appropriate direction, said Heilman, who is also director of the UF Cognitive and Memory Disorders Program.

"For a puppy, they wouldn't rate it as high (as the control group members did), but they would put it more toward the happy face, showing that they appear to understand the picture," he said. "But they also made more inconsistent markings than the normal control group, such as when being shown a spider putting their mark toward the happy face."

Misinterpreting the images or not understanding the meaning of some pictures - a comprehension disorder - could have skewed the results, but the volunteers were given a naming test to minimise this possibility. Though Alzheimer's patients often suffer from depression, researchers ruled it out as a cause for lower emotional response based on yearly face-to-face evaluations conducted throughout the study.

"Caregivers also should be helped to understand that it is not 'their fault' if a loved one seems emotionally indifferent to them," Feinberg said.; Source: University of Florida

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