Emotional Contagion in Elders with Cognitive Decline

Posted on June 10, 2013

The “New Old Age” blog recently featured a study showing that emotional contagion, which is the tendency to catch and feel emotions that are similar to others, is intensified in elders with cognitive deficits. New research published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” finds that emotional contagion is heightened in people with mild cognitive impairment (M.C.I.) and Alzheimer’s. And the greater the level of cognitive decline, the more pronounced this emotional mirroring seems to be.

Since caring for individuals with dementia is very stressful, what are caregivers to do when they are feeling stressed out and anxious?

Here are some stress-reduction strategies and resources that may useful:

1. Deep Breathing: Place your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds; exhale slowly. Repeat three times.

 2. Relaxation Techniques:

Progressive muscle relaxation. In this relaxation technique, you focus on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. This helps you focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation. You become more aware of physical sensations. One method of progressive muscle relaxation is to start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head.

Visualization. In this relaxation technique, you visualize a relaxing, peaceful scene such as, walking in a meadow, sitting by a stream, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details-the sights, the sounds, the smells. During visualization, try to use as many senses as you can, including smell, sight, sound and touch. If you imagine relaxing at the ocean, for example, think about the smell of salt water, the sound of crashing waves and the warmth of the sun on your body.

Practice relaxation techniques: http://vcc.asu.edu/relax/

Mindful Meditation. In this technique, you focus on awareness of how you’re feeling in the “here and now”. Thinking about the past-blaming and judging yourself-or worrying about the future increases stress. By staying calm and focused in the present moment, you can restore calmness. Mindfulness can be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, eating, or meditation.

Practice meditation exercises: http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22

4. Self-Care: Get sufficient sleep, exercise and eat nutritious foods. Set appropriate limits; learn to say “no”.  Only take on added responsibilities that you can reasonably manage.

5. Information and support:






Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/relaxation-technique/SR00007/NSECTIONGROUP=2

Help Guide.org: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_relief_meditation_yoga_relaxation.htm

“Readers Digest”: http://www.rd.com/health/wellness/37-stress-management-tips/#ixzz2VjwalskJ