Research has found that people living with dementia tend to reflect the emotions of those around them. This transfer of emotion is called ‘emotional contagion’. As their thinking abilities decline, they develop an increased sensitivity to other emotional processes.
Emotional contagion is a way by which emotions travel across people quickly and even without awareness. This process can shape behaviors and cause changes to the brain.
—Dr. Virginia Sturm (2013)
Emotional contagion is like a form of empathy which allows those living with dementia to share and experience other people’s emotions.
If we are hurried, anxious, or frustrated, they will pick up on this and mirror it back.
This also means, however, that if we look calm and peaceful, they can emulate these positive emotions too.
Calm Begets Calm
As we approach a resident, remember that they are likely scanning us. ‘Is this person calm or not?’ Of course none of us feel calm or present at all times! But we can help ourselves reach this state by assisting residents in being centered.
If you are pushed for time even one deep breath can help a lot. Try it next time you catch yourself hurrying or worrying. Take a deep breath….breathe in calm, breath out worry. It can be that simple.
Sturm, V. E., Yokoyama, J. S., Seeley, W. W., Kramer, J. H., Miller, B. L., & Rankin, K. P. (2013). Heightened emotional contagion in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease is associated with temporal lobe degeneration. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(24), 9944-9999. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1301119110