The Emotional Contagion of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

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We often see Alzheimer’s and dementia from the outside. Your loved one seems depressed. Your client is wandering. Your friend’s father asks the same questions again and again.
Depression and agitation are just a few of the emotional consequences that manifest as Alzheimer’s and dementia progress. Such behaviors are almost expected, or at least are unsurprising when considering the cognitive decline that accompanies the disease.
Yet research has uncovered a new dimension to Alzheimer’s: Emotional contagion. As the person’s cognitive capacity declines, emotional empathy rises, giving the person the “unconscious ability to mimic another person’s emotions.” At its most basic level, persons with Alzheimer’s can key into their caregiver’s emotional state: What you feel, they feel.
This empathetic connectivity doesn’t happen in all types of dementia. For example, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) degenerates both brain function and the ability to tap into social cues, with caregivers experiencing emotional withdrawal on the part of their loved one or client with FTD. Researchers are also looking into a correlation between emotional and cognitive function in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where emotional circuitry goes into overdrive.
Read more about the emotional side of the disease in “With Alzheimer’s Comes Empathy.”
Learn about our person-centered approach to dementia care.
Have you noticed your loved one or client reflecting your mood? What’s been your experience?
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About the Author

“All big things are made of little things. Every part counts!”