The onset of dementia brought about a surprising change in Mama. She developed a love for slapstick comedy. My genteel Mama who had always loved Broadway shows and Classical music suddenly enjoyed watching someone get a pie in the face. Of course, the masters of slapstick themselves, the “Three Stooges” zoomed to the top of our movie stack.
There is one particularly entertaining scene where one of them is playing a violin and the bow keeps catching on the toupee of the guy standing next to him. That particular bit caused Mama to almost roar with laughter. So, of course we played it over and over. And over. It was ALWAYS a surprise to her when the wig came off and she loved it. We loved watching her laugh and be happy.
We also began watching “Laurel and Hardy” as well as “Shirley Temple”. The nice thing about slapstick is that it is a sudden action that doesn’t have to be explained.
When Mama watched her funny movies, it lightened her mood and the rest of the evening usually went smoother. It seems that the saying is true, “If Mama’s happy, everyone is happy”.
The Bible tells us in Proverbs “A joyful heart is good medicine” Laughter may be especially good medicine for dementia patients – and best of all, it doesn’t have any unpleasant side effects.
A recent ‘SMILE Study’ conducted by the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia appears to agree. They used humor therapy on 400 residents at 36 different nursing homes to discover whether humor could improve the lives of people living with dementia. The results showed a 20 per cent reduction in agitated behavior such as aggression, wandering, screaming and repetitive actions.
Even Shakespeare recognized the value in growing older with joy. In “The Merchant of Venice”, he wrote: “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
Some of the well-known Benefits of laughter include:
- Lower stress hormones
- Ease of anxiety and fear
- Easing tension and lightening the mood
- Strengthened lungs/immune system
- Increase in social interaction
Find ways to laugh. Be silly, make silly faces or even pretend to laugh-which at times can be enough to prime the laughter pump.
Watch funny movies and read books that are humorous and take your mind off the situation. Mama also loved looking at a directory we happened to have that contained some faces with funny expressions.
Dementia is no laughing matter, but both caregivers and patients will fare much better if we remember to laugh. Find a way, seize a moment, and laugh every single day.
How has laughter benefited you or your loved one with dementia? Share your story about how laughter has made a difference.