We all know the phrase “laughter is the best medicine”. And it’s true that we all feel just a little bit calmer, happier and healthier after a good laugh. Even published studies confirm the benefits of laughter. One such study, conducted by a group of Australian researchers, set out to determine if humor could measurably improve the quality of life for 400 dementia patients. The results of the 3-year study were eye-opening: A reduction in anxiety of 20%! The lead researcher, Lee-Fay Low, further noted that the effect was the same as if these individuals had taken an antipsychotic medication.
Laughter really is the best medicine, in more ways than one.
What does research like this mean for those with loved ones who struggle with dementia? The simple answer is that laughter may really be “the best medicine”, when it comes to improving mood and reducing anxiety for those with dementia. And that’s significant, considering that anxiety is often the cause of troubling habits, such as wandering and emotional outbursts.
At Anthem Memory Care communities, we are constantly on the look out for ways to add humor into everyday activities and into the interactions we have with our residents and family members. We know that laughter helps lift the spirits and improve our wellbeing in numerous ways. And, studies indicate physiological benefits as well, including:
- Release of pleasure-inducing neurochemicals in the brain
- Improved blood flow and oxygen to the brain
- Trigger of immune system to help ward off infection
The Alzheimer’s Association encourages sprinkling as much laughter into the day to day life of a loved one with dementia as possible. A recent article written by the association stated that “laughing, and even gentle teasing, can reduce tension for both the caregiver and his loved one who, while cognitively impaired, is still greatly influenced by ambient tensions,” they noted.
Of course, it is important to make sure that your humor doesn’t cross any lines into behavior that could be construed as demeaning or belittling to your loved one. Make sure that your humorous observations and joking can be grasped and understood properly by your loved one. Watch carefully for his or her reaction and adjust your behavior accordingly.
And don’t forget that, as a caregiver, you could use more laughter in your life as well. Chances are your journey has already presented you and your family with plenty of difficult days as you grapple with the complex set of emotions that accompany having a loved one with dementia. Laughter is a natural and effective way to release tension. Look for opportunities to share moments of humor with family and friends. It will be time well spent.