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People with Dementia as Witnesses to Emotional Events

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2011
30 pages
In order to determine whether people with dementia (ages 55 and older) can provide reliable evidence as witnesses to emotional events, this study conducted a cross-sectional analysis of 95 people with dementia and a control group of 50 older adults, eliciting memories of recent autobiographical events with both positive and negative emotional content.
The study determined that a significant subset of older adults with dementia illnesses can reliably report on emotional events that have happened to them. Compared to people with dementia with less reliable emotional memory, these individuals were able to report details of the event accurately and to recall the same event with the same accuracy after a short time delay. This subset of the dementia sample are likely to be in an earlier stage of the disease, to be more aware of their own cognitive impairment, to be more likely to report negative events in their lives, and to be able to recall an event without cues. These findings suggest that older adults with dementia who are crime victims should be evaluated for their ability to remember emotional events in which they have been involved. If the evaluation shows the capacity to remember autobiographical emotional events, the individual should be allowed to provide testimony about the criminal events. After eliciting memories of both positive and negative emotional events through a structured interview, accurate recollection of these events was independently verified by a non-demented informant, usually a family member. In addition, both the informant and the older adult were interviewed independently in assessing other characteristics of the older adult participant. Information was obtained on demographics, depressive symptoms, functional and cognitive abilities, medications, health conditions, behaviors in casual conversations, and characteristics of the relationship between the older adult and the informant. 3 tables, 3 figures, 74 references, and appended study instruments

Date Published: April 1, 2011