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Friday, June 18, 2010

Emotions Outlast The Memories That Drive Them

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by Deborah Franklin



A study of patients with amnesia finds that the emotion tied to a memory lingers in the mind even after the memory is gone.

The finding, published this week in the journal PNAS, Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences could have important implications for people with Alzheimer's disease and their families.

One of the loneliest things about loving someone with early Alzheimer's is the feeling that any good times the two of you share just don't matter.

"So often I'll listen to family members say, 'Oh, I don't go and visit Grandpa anymore because 10 minutes after I leave, he doesn't even remember I came,' " says Justin Feinstein, a graduate student in neuropsychology at the University of Iowa.

Feinstein had a hunch that those visits made more of an impression than anyone realized. To check, he turned to several people who, like Alzheimer's patients, have damage to a spot in the brain called the hippocampus.

He describes it as a "kind of a sea-horse-shaped structure right in the middle of the brain, no bigger than the pinkie."

Damage your hippocampus, and you can't hang onto new memories for more than a few minutes. It can happen through a stroke, epilepsy or Alzheimer's disease.

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