Share this to:

Support & Insight for the Autumn of Life

Memories Fade But Feelings Remain


EMOTIONAL STATES of individuals with Alzheimer’s are profoundly influenced by Caregivers. Learn how.

A new University of Iowa study further supports an inescapable message: caregivers have a profound influence — good or bad — on the emotional state of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Patients may not remember a recent visit by a loved one or having been neglected by staff at a nursing home, but those actions can have a lasting impact on how they feel.

The findings of this study are published in the journal, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology.

Sad and Happy Movies

UI researchers showed individuals with Alzheimer’s disease clips of sad and happy movies. The patients experienced sustained states of sadness and happiness despite not being able to remember the movies.

Emotional Life is Alive and Well

“This confirms that the emotional life of an Alzheimer’s patient is alive and well,” says lead author Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, a doctoral student in clinical psychology, a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellow, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

Guzmán-Vélez conducted the study with Daniel Tranel, UI professor of neurology and psychology, and Justin Feinstein, assistant professor at the University of Tulsa and the Laureate Institute for Brain Research.

Tranel and Feinstein published a paper in 2010 that predicted the importance of attending to the emotional needs of people with Alzheimer’s, which is expected to affect as many as 16 million people in the United States by 2050 and cost an estimated $1.2 trillion.

Treating Patients, Teaching Caregivers

“It’s extremely important to see data that support our previous prediction,” Tranel says. “Edmarie’s research has immediate implications for how we treat patients and how we teach caregivers.”

Despite the considerable amount of research aimed at finding new treatments for Alzheimer’s, no drug has succeeded at either preventing or substantially influencing the disease’s progression. Against this foreboding backdrop, the results of this study highlight the need to develop new caregiving techniques aimed at improving the well-being and minimizing the suffering for the millions of individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

For this behavioral study, Guzmán-Vélez and her colleagues invited 17 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 17 healthy comparison participants to view 20 minutes of sad and then happy movies. These movie clips triggered the expected emotion: sorrow and tears during the sad films and laughter during the happy ones.

Remembering Scenes Vs. Remembering Feelings

About five minutes after watching the movies, the researchers gave participants a memory test to see if they could recall what they had just seen. As expected, the patients with Alzheimer’s disease retained significantly less information about both the sad and happy films than the healthy people. In fact, four patients were unable to recall any factual information about the films, and one patient didn’t even remember watching any movies.

Before and after seeing the films, participants answered questions to gauge their feelings. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease reported elevated levels of either sadness or happiness for up to 30 minutes after viewing the films despite having little or no recollection of the movies.

Emotions Far Outlasted Memories

Quite strikingly, the less the patients remembered about the films, the longer their sadness lasted. While sadness tended to last a little longer than happiness, both emotions far outlasted the memory of the films.

The fact that forgotten events can continue to exert a profound influence on a patient’s emotional life highlights the need for caregivers to avoid causing negative feelings and to try to induce positive feelings.

Empowering Caregivers

According to Guzmán-Vélez, simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient’s quality of life and subjective well-being include:

  • Frequent visits
  • Social interactions
  • Exercise
  • Music
  • Dance
  • Jokes
  • Serving patients their favorite foods.

Guzmán-Vélez says, “Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Edmarie Guzmán-Vélez, Justin S. Feinstein, Daniel Tranel. Feelings Without Memory in Alzheimer DiseaseCognitive And Behavioral Neurology, 2014; 27 (3): 117 DOI: 10.1097/WNN.0000000000000020
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
April 30, 2015 4:55 pm

Yes, this is my experience with my Mom <3

I blog about my journey with her here:

Harold Weisberg
Harold Weisberg
December 6, 2015 11:41 pm
Reply to  Harold Weisberg
July 4, 2016 5:52 am

Your blessed…14 years. Wow.

A Canadian Butterfly
A Canadian Butterfly
November 3, 2017 4:42 pm

"Feelings matter most in dementia care" (Sheard, D.). Truly outstanding dementia care focuses on the emotional well-being of the person living with dementia.

B. Berger

B. Berger

Visit Our Pages On:


This site was inspired by my Mom’s autoimmune dementia.

It is a place where we separate out the wheat from the chaffe, the important articles & videos from each week’s river of news. With a new post on Alzheimer’s or dementia appearing on the internet every 7 minutes, the site’s focus on the best information has been a help to many over the past 15 years. Thanks to our many subscribers for your supportive feedback.

The site is dedicated to all those preserving the dignity of the community of people living with dementia.

Peter Berger, Editor


a group of eggs with happy faces drawn on them
6 Tips on Repetitive Questions Due to Dementia
CARE VIDEO: "WHAT TIME IS IT?" Repetitive questions are common in dementia, triggering frustration and anxiety in car...
Toothbrushing with assistance
Helping a Person with Dementia to Clean Their Teeth
Tooth brushing in dementia can involve a number of tricky details. Anticipating needs is all it takes to make it easy...
Successful Bathing with Dementia
Refusal to bathe is common in people with dementia. Here are a dozen simple techniques to make bathing easier.
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
News, Treatments, Care Tips

Subscribe To The Weekly Newsletter

videos & articles on Research & Prevention
News to Get at the Truth

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter