Confabulation, when talking about mental health, is a symptom that appears as an indicator of the presence of mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer and Dementia.
Confabulations are disturbances in memory that cause the people that are affected by Alzheimers or Dementia to produce distorted or misinterpreted memories about themselves and/or their surroundings.
These “memories” are not real in the sense that they did not actually happen, but they are real because the brain thinks they are.
This happens due to how our brain works. When you experience something, the brain does not actually register what has been experienced. In fact, the brain takes the information it received from your sensorial organs and links to previous pieces of memories.
These pieces of memories are things like movements, sounds or other things that your brain stored when you first experienced it. After that is done for the first time, it will only link new memories to the pieces of information it already has. For instance, you will register your first kiss and will never forget it, because your brain did not have that information. All the kisses you had after the first will not be recorded but will be linked to as a repetition of that first fact.
When someone suffers from a mental illness such as Alzheimer’s, where the memory is affected, their brain can make fake memories from the pieces of information it already had.
For example, someone suffering from Alzheimer’s might experience something complex and their brain may not be able to handle all the information properly.
Due to this inability to processing the information received and turning it into memory, the brain may substitute a piece of information it did not understand properly with a similar piece it already had. This leads to fake memories, as what is remembered is not what actually happened.
To summarize, the brain forms memories with pieces of stored information, then assembles and stitches them together when you recall that memory. You don’t remember the fact per se, but a collection of information assembled to form the thing you experienced. It is like building with Lego pieces.
How to Handle
Having a relative with any form of Dementia is never easy. But when it comes to Alzheimer’s, the case is even worse. Our beloved ones that suffer from this terrible illness have a hard time living their daily lives, as they often forget what has happened or not recognizing close relatives.
To help them have a better life, you should start keeping a record of what they experience, for them to read when they forget something. People that suffer from Amnesia often use this technique, especially those affected by short-term memory loss.
Another important thing that you need to keep in mind is that they do not have the intent to deceive you when they report a memory that is not real. They really think that what they recall is the truth.
With that in mind, you should always take what they say with a grain of salt, and keeping the journal mentioned above will help not only them to revisit the memories, but will serve you as a tool to confirm the information. Not that you must distrust everything that they say, but you can use it as an encouragement tool, complimenting them when they recall the correct memories.
This will incentivize them to exercise their brains, which will slow down the progress of the disease, as unfortunately, it has no cure.
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