For People with Alzheimer’s, Emotions Linger After Memories Fade

A senior smiles as a caregiver combs her hair.Caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s can be overwhelmed by the ravages of the disease, and it’s easy to wonder if any of the support they offer provides any comfort at all to a person who can’t remember it. A new study has found that even among those people with Alzheimer’s who have experienced extensive memory loss, the emotions associated with memories linger long after the memory itself is gone.

Emotion without Memory in People with Alzheimer’s

The study looked at a group of 17 people with Alzheimer’s, then compared them to a group of people without the disease. Each group viewed 20-minute clips of movies the study’s authors identified as either happy or sad.

After the movie, participants were asked to recall details from the movie, in addition to logging their emotions. The group of people with Alzheimer’s quickly forgot the content of the films. Their emotional reactions to the films, however, continued to linger 30 minutes after viewing the films. Sad feelings tended to last longer than happy ones, and patients who remembered the least about the films had the longest lasting feelings of sadness.

Tips for Caregivers

Edmarie Guzman-Velez, a University of Iowa doctoral student in clinical psychology, says that the study can offer hope to caregivers that their actions really do matter. People with Alzheimer’s continue to have an emotional life, even when they can’t remember the memories that gave rise to their emotions. Elderly residents are vulnerable to abuse in nursing homes, particularly when their caregivers do not believe that they remember the abuse. This study demonstrates the emotional toll and lasting effects of elder abuse.

Caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s can tap into their clients’ emotional capacities by playing music, dancing, watching movies together, and finding other ways to offer loving support. Media that once yielded happy emotions—such as a much-beloved movie—might be just as helpful even for a person who no longer remembers the actual content of the media.


Alzheimer patients feel emotion long after memory has faded. (2014, September 25). Retrieved from

Emotional life lingers for Alzheimer’s patients, even as memory fades. (2014, September 29). Retrieved from

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Carolyn


    October 4th, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    awww this disease takes away so much for so many good people
    makes you so hopeful that a cure or at least preventitive measures will come along sometime soon

  • gwen


    October 6th, 2014 at 3:58 AM

    What a great idea for those who care for patients like this, to take them back to a time and a place that once brought on happy feelings and emotions for them. This could be old photos, music, a place, anything that would have once made them smile and could have the potential to do so again. It might not be quite the same as it once would have been but it is a chance to bring a smile to their face that could linger for a little while. This disease can be so destructive so it is nice to try to bring a little happiness to their lives which may not longer be there.

  • Laken


    October 6th, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    I would suggest a support group for any family member or caregiver who is living with and taking care of an Alzheimer’s patient.

  • Floyd


    October 7th, 2014 at 3:57 AM

    In some ways I think that this is true for many of us. We continue to feel a little blue after reading something sad or seeing a movie that make us cry. We still haev a smile on our faces after watching a funny film. I think that there is probably a little bit of all of us who hangs onto these emotions.

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