Few of us would ever associate humor with memory care. However, today there is evidence that the old adage, “laughter is the best medicine,” could also apply to caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
While there is certainly nothing funny about memory loss, experts now say that humor offers several tangible benefits for both memory care recipients and their caregivers.
A Prescription for Laughter
Kathy Wiederhold, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe™ Louisville, a memory care assisted living community in Louisville, KY, says, “Laughter has proven to be beneficial to our overall emotional state, and recent studies and professional publications have noted that humor can also be helpful to loved ones living with memory loss – as well as their caregivers.
“Humor is said to have a soothing, calming effect on those who are prone to stress, anxiety and agitation as a result of their disease. Likewise, laughter has shown to be a useful coping mechanism for harried caregivers who often struggle to balance home, family and career in addition to their caregiver roles.”
The Evidence Behind Humor’s Value
So how does humor actually work?
Angela Lunde, a dementia education specialist in the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, offers some insight in her article,“Alzheimer’s Support Group Gets Lift from Humor, Sharing.”
She says, “I see humor as one of the key ingredients to cultivating resilience in life. Studies show that laughter boosts the immune system and triggers the release of pleasure-inducing neurochemicals in the brain. It's no secret that sharing laughs makes us feel better and helps us bond.”
Lunde adds that “finding humor” is effectively depicted in Debbie Hoffmann’s Oscar-nominated documentary, “Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter.”The film captures Debbie's use of humor in her experiences, including caring for her mother with Alzheimer's, the relationship between the two and her coming to terms with disease’s progression.
The value of humor is highlighted at the end of the stor,y as Debbie states, “We have very few coherent conversations anymore, but she loves to talk. I don't know what she's talking about, but she's having a great time. She laughs, I laugh. She's really doing fine.”
A research white paper, “Alzheimer’s Disease: Remember to Laugh,” authored by Laurie Young and Kay Caskey comes to a similar conclusion. The co-authors assert, “Laughing and even gentle teasing of people with the disease can turn into a tension-relieving exercise for the caregivers and patient alike who, while cognitively impaired, is still greatly influenced by ambient tensions.
“Too often Alzheimer’s disease is seen only as defeat and decline. For the caregiver, there is only burden; for the person with Alzheimer’s Disease, a slow slide into despair.”
The Many Benefits of Humor for Caregivers and Their Loved Ones
Various experts in memory care, including the Alzheimer’s Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), agree that caring for a loved one with memory loss can be a major drain on a caregiver’s time, energy and patience, as well as their physical and emotional well-being.
They confirm that it is important for caregivers to maintain their sense of humor because laughter can help them to cope with their challenges in several ways. For example:
- Relieving stress
- Strengthening the immune system so caregivers can stay healthy
- Promoting mental health
- Relieving tension and lightening the mood
- Allowing them to enjoy the moment
- Strengthening family relationships
For loved ones, memory loss often causes confusion, frustration and depression, which can result in anxiety, apathy, agitation and even aggression. Laughter has been shown to alleviate some of these symptoms and improve their mood as well as their overall quality of life. Specifically, humor helps by:
- Improving social interactions and overall emotional state
- Allowing them to redirect negative emotions
- Easing symptoms of depression
- Tempering signs of aggression
Tips for Using Humor with Your Loved One at Home
Unfortunately, not all of us are born comedians. For some of us, it takes a little work – especially when you’re in the middle of a highly stressful day.
Fortunately, helpful advice is available in the form of the following tips from memory care specialists who have successfully incorporated humor into their caregiving routines:
- Encourage your loved one’s sense of humor and help establish an environment of lightheartedness and levity.
- Try watching some classic comedy movies and sitcoms with your loved one. YouTube is a great resource for free videos! Type in almost any subject and find funny videos of all kinds, plus clips from old TV shows such as “The Honeymooners,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Jack Benny.”
- Lighten the atmosphere yourself by sharing a funny story or reminiscing about a humorous event that both of you had a laugh over. If your loved one has a good sense of humor, encourage it.
- Look for books, websites and people who encourage the brighter side of caregiving. A favorite book in this category is Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir by Carol O’Dell, which tells about her caregiving journey with her mother who had Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The story is touching, but will also make you laugh!
Adds Kathy, “Remember, adding laughter to a difficult situation such as Alzheimer’s disease is not only accepted, but it is recommended. You are never laughing at your loved one. You’re always laughing with them. And, if a little humor can be beneficial to both of you, then it’s just what the doctor ordered.”
Serving Families with Memory Care Information, Guidance and Support
At Clarity Pointe Louisville, we are more than a beautiful place to live. In addition to providing exceptional memory care for loved ones, we are also a resource for families.
We invite you to read our regular articles and tips on a variety of helpful memory care topics for family caregivers. In addition, we welcome you to view our schedule of free monthly events and hope you will join us for our highly informative programs.
In all aspects of memory care, we are always here for you and your loved one.
Clarity Pointe … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Louisville offers three freestanding, purpose-built Memory Care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to Memory Care Assisted Living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.