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Alzheimer's and emotions

Studies have shown maintaining meaningful relationships is vitally important for persons with dementia or other cognitive impairments, according to Dr. Laura Wagner of the Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied Research Institute.

The institute conducted a study of the impact of trained "friendly visitors" of cognitively-impaired residents of a nursing home. The results of the study showed the need for relationships that encouraged emotional, creative, and spiritual capacities of persons who are cognitively impaired.

One of the ways this emotional capacity is nurtured is through the use of music. Music can be used to calm anxious individuals, and it can also be used to encourage social activities. Even folks with profound memory loss can remember the words to songs they first heard many years ago. Music can stir up happy emotions that help the cognitively-impaired feel connected to the world around them. It can also sustain care receivers' desires for creative outlets, through singing or just listening along with a companion. The same can be said for religious and spiritual rituals and traditions. Like music, many prayers older folks learned decades ago are still easily recalled. Being able to participate in religious traditions, even in a diminished capacity, helps them feel rooted to their communities.

Caregivers can help their loved ones maintain this sense of connection to their spiritual roots by incorporating a few religious holiday traditions into the household. This may entail the preparation of special meals, the reading of a particular passage from the Bible, or listening to hymns. Take the focus off the care receiver's limitations and instead highlight their remaining abilities. This can be an enriching activity for caregivers as well, who may feel a sense of guilt about not being able to maintain their loved one's spiritual practices.

The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620. Information is also periodically provided by the Behavioral Health Services North Caregiver Resource Center. They may be reached at 565-4543 or 565-4625.

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