Researchers from the Iberian Institute of Psychology (IBIP) of the INTRAS Foundation in Zamora, in coordination with the University of Salamanca and the Institute of Health Sciences Studies of Castilla y León (IECSYL), have developed a specific treatment can rehabilitate the ability of people with Alzheimer’s to read facial expression of emotions, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

As we age we lose some ability to recognize negative emotions through facial expression, such as fear, anger, and sadness. In the case of people with Alzheimer’s, this deterioration is much greater, especially for low-intensity emotions, and is associated with the deterioration of cognitive functions caused by the disease, explains first author Jesus Antonio Garcia Casal.

For this reason, scientists decided to investigate whether the ability to recognize emotions can be rehabilitated through a specific treatment program. The study focused on six basic emotions: joy, sadness, anger, disgust, fear and surprise, plus a neutral expression.

The 36 patients who participated were divided into three groups, an experimental group that received 20 sessions of rehabilitation of emotion recognition and 20 sessions of cognitive stimulation therapy (CST), a control group that received 40 sessions of CST, and a treatment as usual group (TAU). After 20 sessions of 90 minutes, in which they used a program with a touch screen interface with photos and dramatic activities, the experimental group improved in its capacity to recognize emotions and they did this process faster, in comparison to the other participants.

Specifically, “the emotions most sensitive to treatment were disgust, surprise and neutral expression,” says the researcher. In addition, the improvement was maintained one month after the end of the treatment. “This is the first time that a rehabilitation treatment of the recognition of emotions in people with Alzheimer’s has been reported and the results open a new line of intervention,” he says.

If these findings are confirmed in later clinical trials, this type of rehabilitation can have important benefits for patients’ quality of life. “The difficulty in recognizing emotions can lead to alterations in interpersonal relationships, as it is key to non-verbal communication and modulates interaction with the social environment,” says Garcia Casal.

In addition, the misinterpretation of facial expressions of emotions can lead to errors in communication, deepening the isolation and mistrust of the people with this deficit. So, experts believe that this line of work could lead to an improvement in the interpersonal relationships of those affected.

Positive effects on cognitive functions

Studies with people with schizophrenia have shown that the rehabilitation of the recognition of emotions can have positive effects on the general cognitive functions.

Some of the brain areas involved in recognizing emotions also support executive functions: language, memory and attention,” says the IBIP researcher. “This could explain why the rehabilitation of the ability to recognize emotions also affects these functions,” he adds.

 

Source: Agencia SINC