comes to dementia, a big belly laugh may be the best medicine. New research
indicates that laughter may be just as effective as antipsychotic medications
for reducing anxiety in elderly people with dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have
no truly effective treatments, a fact that has compelled experts and laymen
alike to seek alternative ways of treating these diseases.
recent report, aptly named the SMILE study, was conducted by a group of
Australian researchers, who set out to discover whether humor could improve the
lives of people living with dementia.
Over the course of three years, humor therapists were tasked
with getting 400 dementia-stricken people to giggle more often. Their efforts
produced an impressive result: a 20 percent reduction in anxiety – the same amount
as a typical antipsychotic medication, according to lead researcher, Lee-Fay
Since agitation and anxiety are often the root causes of
outbursts and wandering in people with dementia, being able to reduce these
feelings would have a positive impact on the lives of those with the disease
and their family members.
Making the case for humor therapy
True to its reputation as "the best
medicine," laughter and humor therapy actually falls into the category of
complementary and alternative medicine.
The use of humor therapy for dementia patients
is debated in an article published in the BMC Journal of Complementary and
to the experts, the always complex issue of humor, is made even thornier by
cognitive impairment, the hallmark symptom of many dementias.
As their disease progresses and their mental
functioning is reduced, a person will become less capable of understanding
complex jokes. Thus, they may become defensive if they perceive that someone is
laughing at their expense.
However, if introduced gradually, humor and
jokes can produce positive feelings in a person with dementia, leading to the
benefits of increased immune functioning and greater pain tolerance.