AMDA Past-President Arif Nazir, MD, FACP, CMD, AGSF, talks about the benefit of guffaws for your older loved one.
The idea that laughter is the best medicine is no joke. In fact, laughter can help relieve stress, ease pain, improve your immune system, increase personal satisfaction, and improve your mood. Laughter as medicine is also free and has no side effects.
Why does laughter make us feel good? There are several reasons. For one, laughing releases endorphins, those chemicals in the brain that create an emotional high. Laughing also triggers the release of serotonin, the same chemical in the brain that some antidepressants target. Laughter can even protect your blood vessels and heart muscles from some effects of cardiovascular disease. At the same time, laughter is contagious: it can spread endorphin release throughout a group of people and promote feelings of togetherness and security.
Research suggests that not all laughter is created equally. Spontaneous, happy laughter, for instance, may stimulate a different reaction in the brain than laughter from being tickled or cruel laughter at the expense of another person’s feelings. For instance, positive mood is most closely associated with spontaneous, happy laughter. Researchers also suggest that happy laughter helps reduce agitation levels in patients with dementia.
What makes someone laugh is very personal. However, humor can also be learned and certainly encouraged. You can help your loved one laugh more in several ways:
- •Get humor in your sights. Watch funny movies or TV shows with your loved one. If they have a favorite comedian or comic actor, share those videos or recordings. Pin up funny cartoons or greeting cards in the room. Reminisce about funny stories from the past. If possible, take your loved one out occasionally to a comedy show or movie.
- •Try laughter yoga. This is a fun activity where people practice laughing as a group. The laughs may seem forced at the beginning, but the joy is contagious; eventually people are laughing for real.
- •Look for ways to spread humor. Read some joke books and come for visits armed with riddles or funny stories for your loved one.
- •Find laughter in everyday situations. For instance, if you bring your dog to visit your loved one, put a funny hat or silly outfit on it.
- •Revisit humorous memories from the past. For instance, retell a funny story about a family vacation or holiday that you both enjoyed. Perhaps bring a photo album.
- •Encourage your loved one to spend time with other residents who make them laugh.
- •Consider using technological solutions that promote laughter, such as sharing a joke every morning through Alexa or similar devices.
Although you may know or assume what makes your loved one laugh, it’s important to check it with them now and again. Consider asking, “What’s made you laugh recently?” or even “What made you laugh the most when you were a kid?” Not only will these conversations give you ideas about ways to share laughter with your loved one, but the answers themselves may cause genuine laughter. Ask your loved one’s caregivers what makes them laugh.
Your physician or other practitioner may write a “laughter prescription” of sorts to remind you and your loved one of the importance of laughing. This may say something like, “Patient will enjoy a belly laugh at least once a week for 30 minutes.” This can serve as a reminder to you and your loved one about the importance of laughter.
Take a few minutes to talk to your practitioner about laughter and how it can help your loved one feel better and enjoy a better quality of life.
Questions to Ask Your Practitioner
- •How much laughter is-necessary to produce positive physical or emotional results?
- •My loved one doesn’t laugh much. Is something wrong with them?
- •Where does the expression ‘funny bone’ come from?
What You Can Do
- •Make it a point to find ways to laugh with your loved one .
- •When you visit, bring things that make your loved one laugh, such as movies, TV shows, records, cartoons, or humorous books or pictures.
- •Don’t be afraid to be silly sometimes. Wear a funny hat, do a silly dance, or talk in a funny voice. Do things that make your loved one laugh.
- •Find out from others who know your loved one what they laugh at and find amusing or entertaining.
For More Information
- •David DiSalvo, “Six Science-Based Reasons Why Laughter Is the Best Medicine,” Forbes, June 5, 2017; https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2017/06/05/six-science-based-reasons-why-laughter-is-the-best-medicine/
- •Rachele Kanigel, “How Laughter Yoga Heals, Plus 6 Fun Exercises to Try,” Yoga Journal, Oct. 25, 2007; https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/laughter-cure/
- •Mayo Clinic Staff, “Stress Relief From Laughter? It’s No Joke,” Healthy Lifestyle: Stress Management, July 29, 2021; https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456
- •Richard Schiffman, “Laughter May Be Effective Medicine for These Trying Times,” New York Times, Oct. 1, 2020; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/01/well/mind/laughter-may-be-effective-medicine-for-these-trying-times.html