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Elders with Dementia Can Tap Into Memory Stores to Give Advice

Dementia may rob an older person of memory and focus, but the ability to offer timeless advice about life's big questions seems to be preserved, according to Florida// State University researchers.

Katinka Dijkstra, an assistant professor of psychology, and Michelle Bourgeois, professor of communication disorders, both of FSU, and colleagues from Long Island University and George Washington University have found that older adults with moderate to severe symptoms of dementia can assume advice giving and teaching roles despite their cognitive impairments. The researchers conducted a pair of first-of-their-kind studies, and the findings were published in the academic journal The Gerontologist.

'A relatively common perception of adults with dementia in nursing homes is that they are helpless and incompetent and do not have the potential to maintain a certain level of independence and ability to communicate,' Dijkstra said. 'Our studies show that they have abilities that their caregivers and family members may not even be aware of. Giving those with dementia opportunities to give advice or teach others could help break the cycle of learned helplessness and improve self-esteem and well-being.'

In the first study, the researchers interviewed 14 people with early to advanced stages of dementia at an adult day care center. The mean age of the participants was 82. The researchers asked about marriage, children and church in a purely social way, such as "Tell me about your children." In later conversations, they asked the adults for advice on the same topics, as in, 'I'm thinking about having children. What kind of advice can you give me on that?'

They found that adults were more coherent, informative and focused on the topic when asked for advice as opposed to when they were simply asked about their children, church or marriage.

'Participants took their roles quite seriously when experimenters asked them for advice,'
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