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In an earlier study we showed that a powerful emotional experience (the Kobe earthquake) reinforced memory retention in patients with Alzheimer's disease, but we could not control factors other than the emotional impact of the earthquake.
To test our previous findings in a controlled experimental study.
Recall tests consisting of two short stories were administered to 34 patients with Alzheimer's disease and 10 normal subjects. The two stories were identical except for one passage in each story: one was emotionally charged (arousing story) and the other (neutral story) was not.
In both groups, the emotionally charged passage in the arousing story was remembered better than the counterpart in the neutral story. In addition, the extent of the memory improvement was similar in the subjects and in the controls.
The results provide further evidence that emotional arousal enhances declarative memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease, and give a clue to the management of people with dementia.
Emotional memory is a special category of memory for events arousing strong emotions. To investigate the effects of emotional involvement on memory retention in individuals with Alzheimer's disease we studied peoples' memories of distressing experiences during a devastating earthquake.
Fifty-one subjects with probable Alzheimer's disease who experienced the Kobe earthquake at home in the greater Kobe area were studied. Memories of the earthquake were assessed 6 and 10 weeks after the disaster in semi-structured interviews, and were compared with memories of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examination given after the earthquake.
Forty-four (86.3%) of the subjects remembered the earthquake and 16 (31.4%) of subjects remembered the MRI experience. Factual content of the earthquake was lost in most of the subjects.
Fear reinforces memory retention of an episode in subjects with Alzheimer's disease but does not enhance retention of its context, despite repeated exposure to the information.
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