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Published on: July 7, 2013
by Dan Harrison for The Age:
Australian researchers have demonstrated that some dementia patients lose the emotional content of their memories, explaining how they can forget emotionally charged events like weddings or funerals.
A team from Neuroscience Research Australia discovered that a region of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex plays an important part in linking emotion and memories.
It is well established that people more vividly remember events infused with emotion, such as birthday parties. But people with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) – a condition that affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain – have difficulty understanding and expressing emotion.
The research team showed patients images that prompt an emotional reaction in healthy people.
While healthy subjects and patients with Alzheimer’s disease remembered more emotional than neutral images, FTD patients did not.
One of the researchers, Associate Professor Olivier Piguet, said the findings, to be published in the journal Brain on Monday, would help improve how different types of dementia were diagnosed.
”This is an important development in how we understand the relations between emotions and memory and the disturbance of the emotional system in this type of dementia,” Professor Piguet said.
Another researcher, Fiona Kumfor, said the findings would help carers better understand why their loved ones might find interactions difficult.
”Imagine if you attended the wedding of your daughter, or met your grandchild for the first time, but this event was as memorable as doing the groceries,” she said. ”We have discovered that this is what life is like for patients with FTD.”
FTD is the second most common degenerative disease causing dementia in younger adults. It typically affects people in their 50s or 60s but can develop in people as young as 30.
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