When it 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.
A 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 Low.
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 Alternative Medicine.
According 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.