Despite dementia, older adults offer sound advice

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: October 4th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

When it comes to life’s big questions about love, marriage and children, it seems the wisdom we have collected over a lifetime remains with us, even if memories do not.

Scientists have discovered that older adults are able to offer sound advice even when their minds are clouded by dementia, a condition that robs people of mental focus and memory far beyond what is normally taken by old age.

Apparently, the secret to tapping this knowledge is in the asking.

Working with people from an adult day care center who have dementia, Florida State University researchers found general questions about marriage and children received flimsy answers.

But when researchers asked specific questions, such as, “Can you give me advice about having children?” they received more coherent replies.

Scientists think patients were able to call upon knowledge they accumulated through long-term experience, even though recent memories may have slipped away.

The findings, published in the journal The Gerontologist, dispel notions that adults with advanced dementia are hopelessly helpless and incompetent.

In fact, the nursing home residents, whose mean age was eighty-two, were eager to dispense useful information. They were empowered by the questions. Answering apparently boosted their self-esteem, putting their focus on what they could do instead of what they were no longer able to do.

Likewise, family members were able to see that their loved ones still had a storehouse of memory and common sense. Often, all it takes is a thoughtful question to tap those reserves.