Remembering to Remember: Are You Grateful for Memory?

From time to time I hear from individuals who have become aware of my research on the benefits of practicing gratitude and are now inspired to live more grateful lives and help others do the same.

Rhonda Blevins, a pastor from Loudon, Tennessee, is conducting dissertation research in a group of older adults in her community. She told me of a senior adult man who was not participating in the study approaching her and saying something to the effect of “Thank you for this project. My wife is participating in it. She has recently been diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s. She’s been very angry. I have seen a remarkable shift in her emotional state since she started the gratitude journaling.

I have heard similar stories of other gratitude-driven transformations taking place in memory-care communities. Research examining how the practice of gratitude can impact Alzheimer’s and cognitively impaired dementia patients as well as their caretakers is just beginning, but the potential for quality of life improvement is great.

One study of caregivers found that those who kept gratitude journals experienced an increase in overall well-being and a reduction in stress and depression levels from the beginning to the end of the study [1]. Gratefulness on a daily basis was related to higher levels of optimism and self-esteem in the caregivers and to fewer physical health complaints as they focused on small victories like their spouse remembering their name or getting the day and month correct when asked.

Another recent study found that older adults who tackled a daily crossword puzzle improved in their “phonemic verbal fluency” over time, meaning that they were able to generate more words starting with a specific letter within a given period of time [2]. This aspect of mental functioning falls off rapidly with increasing age, and is highly impaired —> Read More