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Researchers Probe Moments of Lucid Clarity Among People With Advanced Dementias
  • Posted April 15, 2024

Researchers Probe Moments of Lucid Clarity Among People With Advanced Dementias

Lucid episodes are an unexpected occurrence among people with late-stage Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.

But these spontaneous events -- in which a person temporarily regains an ability to communicate that appeared to be permanently lost -- are not always a sign of impending death, a recent study argues.

Half the time, people live more than six months following their lucid episode, results show. Another third of the time, the person lives a week to six months after a lucid episode.

This runs contrary to prior research that indicated these episodes might signal imminent death, said lead researcher Joan Griffin, with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"It's important for people to know that these are not necessarily harbingers for death," Griffin said in a Mayo news release.  “I think people can get anxious when they happen, so it's good to know that there are different kinds of episodes that don't necessarily mean death is imminent."

The new study is also the first to identify four different types of lucid episode that can occur.

The most common is preceded by a visit with family or friends, and occurs among people who continued to live longer than six months after the episode, researchers said. About 33% of patients experienced this type of lucid episode.

The least common occurs within a week of death, but also coincides with a visit from family or friends, results show. About 12% experience this type.

"We know these lucid episodes are happening, but we didn't know if there are different types of episodes that happen at different times or under different circumstances," Griffin said.  "This study helped clarify that different types of episodes likely exist."

All types of lucid episodes were fleeting, lasting less than 10 minutes, researchers found.

In the study, Griffen and her colleagues analyzed 279 episodes of lucidity reported by 151 caregivers following the death of a person with Alzheimer's or dementia.

The people were found through UsAgainstAlzheimer's, a nonprofit that maintains an online list of volunteers for research into Alzheimer's and related dementias.

Three-quarters of people who experienced a lucid episode had Alzheimer's disease, as opposed to other forms of dementia, researchers found.

About three in five people who had a lucid episode were female, and nearly a third lived in the same household as their caregiver, results show.

The study was published recently in the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

Researcher next plan an ongoing study to track lucid episodes among patients as well as how caregivers respond to them.

"With this new study, we'll be able to understand better what patterns exist and determine the consequences of the episode over time," Griffin said.

A better understanding of lucid episodes will help doctors better prepare caregivers for them, as well as serving as a reminder of the continuing potential of people living with dementia.

"Caregivers of people living with dementia must manage a long list of challenges and it can be overwhelming," Griffin said. "Perhaps understanding these episodes can help lighten that load."

"We have found in our research and stories from caregivers that these kinds of episodes change how they interact with and support their loved ones -- usually for the better," Griffin added. "These episodes can serve as reminders that caregiving is challenging, but we can always try to care with a little more humanity and grace."

More information

The Alzheimer's Association has more on the stages of Alzheimer's.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, April 11, 2024

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