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{ } AGING with an Attitude They DO Remember! Dorie Sugay is the Executive Director of Visiting Angels, a company that provides living-assistance services to seniors and adults-in-need who wish to stay in their own home or receive one-on-one care within a facility. This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It was written independently of Visiting Angels. The names of clients and caregivers were changed to protect their privacy. 80 M aya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” There was a time when people believed this to be untrue for those with Alzheimer’s; after all, their memory is impaired. But since then, experts have come to realize that those with Alzheimer’s DO remember certain things rather well. They remember how an experience made them feel, they remember how you made them feel. In the journal Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, a study group published an interesting conclusion to a study they conducted. They showed two films to individuals with Alzheimer’s: one film was sad, the other film was happy. They then tested the individuals to assess how much they remembered. As you might guess – most, especially those in the middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s, did not remember much about the films. They did, how- ever, remember how the films made them feel. Lead author Edmarie Guzman-Velez, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, said: “Our study highlights the fact that actions towards patients with Alzheimer’s disease have consequences, even when the patients do not appear to remember the actions. In fact, actions may have a lasting impact on how the patients feel.” The study revealed that an individual with Alzheimer’s might not remember abuse experienced at the hands of another individual, but their feelings for the abuser, for example, lingered, their negative reaction towards someone might have significant meaning. So how can you use this information if you have a loved one who is challenged by Alzheimer’s? First – remind yourself that they may no longer intellectually process information the way you do, but they can still gather “emotional data.” Thoughts that could go through the mind of someone in the mid to advanced stages of Alzheimer’s for example, may include: “My daughter really loves me” or “My daughter thinks I am a burden” or “My son doesn’t really even know I exist” or “My son is present for me.” When you visit but your eyes are glued to your cell phone, they feel your mental absence. Frankly you are better off visiting for a short period of time and being present than hanging around for an hour but not really engaging with them. Their brains may no longer work like yours does, but their radar for how people feel about them or the current situation works just fine. Visiting Angels had a client named Carrie who would get ornery when a caregiver named Amelia was present. Interestingly enough, when her other caregiver named Elisa took over, she was more cooperative, she was happier. The Care Specialist finally figured out that Amelia merely tolerated GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017 Carrie and it showed, whereas Elisa was very caring and actually enjoyed being around Carrie and it showed in her actions. In fact, when Elisa figured out that Carrie liked to sing, she brought her karaoke, and got Carrie to sing with her—they had a party! But if you ask Carrie what she did, many times she would forget and say something like, “I don’t remember, but we had fun, we laughed.” She could not remember that they sang on the karaoke, but she remembered how good she felt, how much fun she had. Long after the memory was buried, she would crack a smile when she thought of having fun with Elisa. It is very difficult to care for a family member with Alzheimer’s and it is not uncommon for family members to lose their patience, or find themselves resentful. If you are worried about a bad experience your loved one had with you, don’t despair. Yes, they will initially remember the sadness or anger, but there is hope! Researchers have found that we use two different ways to forget bad memories: suppression and/ or substitution. Our ability to rid ourselves of painful memories is believed to involve some sort of teamwork effort between the brain’s amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. But the amygdala is affected when Alzheimer’s disease is present. Because of the damage to the brain, the Alzheimer sufferer won’t necessarily be able to suppress bad me