A heartbreaking study out of the University of Sydney has found that people suffering from a type of early-onset dementia lose their ability to daydream and engage in inner monologues. Without the ability to let their mind wander, frontotemporal dementia patients are stuck always living in the moment, unable to anticipate the future or think about their past.
Daydreaming and similar mind wandering takes place for around 50-percent of someone’s waking hours, according to the study. Introspection is key to evaluating one’s own behaviors, working through problems, regulating one’s own actions and emotions, and more. Realizing the loss of this internal thought process helps healthcare professionals and caretakers understand individuals suffering from this disease.
Over time, according to the study, individuals with early-onset dementia lose their internal reality and become increasingly stuck living in their present, external world. People with dementia experience behavioral changes that could be the result of this mental shift, including fixating on external stimulation like a TV.
The study focused on 35 people with early-onset dementia and another 24 people with Alzheimer’s disease. When presented with 2D colored geometric shapes on a computer screen, healthy participants and people with Alzheimer’s disease both reported experiencing mind wandering while looking at the shapes, but participants with frontotemporal dementia were limited to only the shape on the screen.
These individuals reported either only thinking about the shape on the screen or thinking about nothing at all. Talking about this is University of Sydney Associate Professor Muireann Irish, who said:
Individuals with frontotemporal dementia become very rigid in their thinking. They are unable to visualise alternatives, to think of solutions to problems, or to deviate from their everyday routines. In previous work, we have shown that their ability to remember the past and to imagine the future is severely compromised. Simply put, these individuals are stuck in the moment.