Someone once said: “It is easier to erase a bad memory than the emotion generated by that bad memory.” Our feelings and emotions color our lives, from the cradle to the tomb and this ability to feel moved and to experience a wide range of emotions: love, joy, fear, anger or pain persists until the end of a human being’s life. This is, of course, also true of persons affected by Alzheimer.
Emotions operate in such a way that images processed in the brain ignite a series of areas such as the amygdala or particular sections of the frontal cortex. Once neurons are activated, other subcortical nuclei and glands secrete chemical molecules in response to the neural signals sparking off specific behaviors. Fear, for example, might bring us to make a fight, to paralyze in a frightful expression or to run as a flight response. Most importantly, the majority of these ideas or plans are unconscious. A negative emotion such as sorrow can be associated with or make us remember other negative experiences. As such, a positive emotion can cause the opposite, the memory of other positive emotions or situations.
The amygdala, an integral part of the limbic system, gives us the capacity to respond emotional and its function remains intact even in the advanced stages of Alzheimer disease. Therefore, persons affected by this illness still relate to others emotionally even if they lose the capacity to understand the broader context of what has caused the emotion. They know, for example, that they feel good when laughing and bad when what they perceive or remember brings fear. People who suffer from Alzheimer can retain the feeling or emotion for a long time even if they are not conscious of the perception or idea that originally caused that feeling.
In fact, emotional sensibility increases with the development of the disease, making people affected more susceptible to capture the emotions that come from the mood of a visitor, a caregiver or a family member. People with Alzheimer do notice if there is frustration, pain, a “bad mood” in their environment or if on the contrary, there is love, joy, or tranquility.
For this reason, it is crucial to be conscious and responsible of how we feel and of what it is that we want to transmit to those whom we accompany in the journey of the illness. If we want to transmit peace and security in order to help to calm the often agitated and fearful mind of those affected, we must find our own peace and calmness so that we may approach them and talk to them from that emotion.
(Mace, 1990; Office of Technology Assessment, 1987; Zgola, 1987).
‘Y el cerebro creó al hombre’ (And the Brain created man) by Antonio Damasio, Neurologist and Director of Brain and Creativity Institute en California
‘I’m still here’ de John Zeisel PhD