MONDAY, Sept. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- For those visiting a person with advanced Alzheimer's, the moment can be bittersweet -- will the patient even remember or care that the loved one was there?
Now, a new study suggests that even if people with the mind-robbing illness quickly forget a visit or other event, the emotions tied to the experience may linger.
The study included 17 Alzheimer's patients who watched 20-minute clips of either happy or sad movies.
Even though their memories of the films quickly faded, the patients' feelings of happiness and sadness associated with the movies lingered for up to 30 minutes, the researchers reported.
The study suggests that caregivers can have a significant effect, for good or bad, on the emotional state of Alzheimer's patients. They may not remember a loved one's visit -- or being abused or neglected by nursing home staff -- but there is a lasting emotional impact, the researchers believe.
"This confirms that the emotional life of an Alzheimer's patient is alive and well," study author Edmarie Guzman-Velez, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Iowa, said in a university news release.
"Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter," she added. "Frequent visits and social interactions, exercise, music, dance, jokes and serving patients their favorite foods are all simple things that can have a lasting emotional impact on a patient's quality of life and subjective well-being."
In the study, feelings of sadness tended to last longer than happiness. Also, the less patients remembered about the movies, the longer their sadness lasted, according to the research published in the September issue of the journal Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology.
The results support the need for relatives and health care providers of Alzheimer's patients to avoid causing negative emotions and to try to promote positive feelings, Guzman-Velez' team said.
The Alzheimer's Association offers advice for Alzheimer's patient caregivers.