Background: Patients with Alzheimer disease (AD) typically have impaired declarative memory as a result of hippocampal damage early in the disease. Far less is understood about AD’s effect on emotion.
Objective: We investigated whether feelings of emotion can persist in patients with AD, even after their declarative memory for what caused the feelings has faded.
Methods: A sample of 17 patients with probable AD and 17 healthy comparison participants (case-matched for age, sex, and education) underwent 2 separate emotion induction procedures in which they watched film clips intended to induce feelings of sadness or happiness. We collected real-time emotion ratings at baseline and at 3 post-induction time points, and we administered a test of declarative memory shortly after each induction.
Results: As expected, the patients with AD had severely impaired declarative memory for both the sad and happy films. Despite their memory impairment, the patients continued to report elevated levels of sadness and happiness that persisted well beyond their memory for the films. This outcome was especially prominent after the sadness induction, with sustained elevations in sadness lasting for more than 30 minutes, even in patients with no conscious recollection for the films.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that patients with AD can experience prolonged states of emotion that persist well beyond the patients’ memory for the events that originally caused the emotion. The preserved emotional life evident in patients with AD has important implications for their management and care, and highlights the need for caretakers to foster positive emotional experiences.