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Emotions May Be Blunted in Alzheimer's Patients
Date:7/13/2010

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- Patients with Alzheimer's disease often can seem withdrawn and apathetic, symptoms frequently attributed to memory problems or difficulty finding the right words.

But patients with the progressive brain disorder may also have a reduced ability to experience emotions, a new study suggests.

When researchers from the University of Florida and other institutions showed a small group of Alzheimer's patients 10 positive and 10 negative pictures, and asked them to rate them as pleasant or unpleasant, they reacted with less intensity than did the group of healthy participants.

"For the most part, they seemed to understand the emotion [normally evoked from the picture they were looking at]," said Dr. Kenneth Heilman, senior author of the study and a professor of neurology at the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute. But, he added, their reactions were different from those of the healthy participants.

"Even when they comprehended the scene, their emotional reaction was very blunted," he said. The study is published online in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

The study participants -- seven with Alzheimer's and eight without -- made a mark on a piece of paper that had a happy face on one end and a sad one on the other, putting the mark closer to the happy face the more pleasing they found the picture and closer to the sad face the more distressing.

Compared to the healthy participants, those with Alzheimer's found the pictures less intense.

They didn't find the pleasant pictures (such as babies and puppies) as pleasant as did the healthy participants. They found the negative pictures (snakes, spiders) less negative.

"If you have a blunted emotion, people will say you look withdrawn," Heilman said.

One important take-home message, he added, is for famili
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