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Aging Ment Health. 2019 Nov;23(11):1578-1585. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2018.1506750. Epub 2018 Dec 27.

Preference for emotionally meaningful activity in Alzheimer's disease.

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Department of Psychology, University of Alberta , Edmonton , Canada.
Department of Psychology, Chinese University of Hong Kong , Hong Kong , China.


Objectives: Socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) contends that future time perspective is the central determinant of healthy older adults' prioritization of emotional gratification. We have shown elsewhere that individuals with Alzheimer's disease (AD) are disoriented to future time perspective. This study examined whether these same participants would prioritize emotional gratification despite having distorted time perspective. Method: Performance of individuals with Alzheimer's disease (AD) was compared against young, young-old, and old-old adults on a social activity preference card-sort task. We examined whether activity preferences differentially related to subjective wellbeing. Results: Multidimensional scaling revealed common dimensions along which groups considered social activities. The importance of these dimensions varied across healthy participant groups in ways predicted by SST. Dimensions related to knowledge acquisition were more important in youth than older age; emotional dimensions were more important to the older age groups. Despite AD, these individuals also prioritzed emotional gratification, suggesting that cognitive impairment is not a barrier to socioemotional selectivity. Preference for emotionally meaningful activities was positively associated with subjective wellbeing. Conclusion: Persons with AD are motivated towards emotionally meaningful ends and retain high levels of wellbeing. These findings have implications in the caregiving context for shaping social programs to better match goals and preferences.


Alzheimer’s disease; dementia; meaningful activity; socioemotional selectivity theory

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