Laughter May Be as Effective as Meds in Dementia Treatment

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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.

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6 Comments

A family member who is mildly into dementia came over with her husband for dinner. I told her about laughter yoga and demonstrated. You say your name and then do a laugh _ it can be very phoney - but that starts everyone going. We had several long belly laughs with this. It is like this; "I am Rosie, he, he, he, haw, haw, haw and then it goes into a great laughter all around".
Visiting Nurse Service of New York blogger Amy Drouin wrote a great piece called "Ten Ways Caregivers Can Make A Loved One Laugh." So true that medicine can be the best medicine.
It makes such perfect sense for laughter to be benefical to those affected by dementia. Laughing isgood for anyone full stop! Reminiscing about funny experiences especially with others who were there is a fantastic way to have a laugh (http://pages.forgetmenotbook.com/online-memory-book/reminiscing-is-good-for-you).