Murielle, one of Maria’s Memory Care residents, is confused. Why is Maria leaving at the end of her shift? And will she be back to visit?
Maria comes to the car where Tina and I are waiting and asks if I can wait a few minutes. Of course I can.
Maria and Tina go back inside to visit Murielle, who’s delighted to see them. She becomes animated on meeting six-year-old Tina, asking her about school and conversing with a level of cognition Maria has not witnessed in this resident before. Murielle and Tina chat happily, and then Murielle walks her visitors to the door and sees them off.
Just a few minutes out of Maria’s and Tina’s lives … but what is it to Murielle, who for that brief time lit up with the joy of entertaining her guests?
A 2010 issue of the Health Sciences Institute’s newsletter, HSI eAlert, can help us here:
In part one [of a University of Iowa experiment], a group of patients (all with hippocampus damage) were shown sad film clips, such as the scene in Forrest Gump where Forrest is alone and crying at his wife’s grave. These clips produced strong reactions, bringing some of the patients to tears.
Within 30 minutes of the last clip, all the patients had forgotten they’d watched the clips. But their sadness still lingered.
In the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences, the authors of the study write, “The patients continued to experience elevated levels of sadness well beyond the point in time at which they had lost factual memory for the film clips.”
Part two of the study followed the same design, but this time the film clips were funny or inspiring. And the basic result was the same. Within minutes, the film clips were forgotten, but good feelings remained long after.
In an NPR report about the study, Justin Feinstein, leader of the UI team, offered this advice for caretakers: “Telling them a simple joke, calling them up on the phone, giving them a visit, could actually have these enormous positive benefits.”
“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”? (Matthew 25: 35, 36, New International Version).