There is nothing funny about mental or cognitive impairment diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or variations of the above such as Lewy Body Dementia. There is no known cure to-date, treatments are expensive, and the associated symptoms change your daily life forever. Laughter is not a cure but it has much to offer on multiple levels to help both the patients and their caregivers.
People with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lewy Body Dementia and other dementias
Here is a brief overview of the dementia landscape:
Many are affected. 1-in-9 Americans over 65 has Alzheimer’s disease, 1 million have Parkinson’s, 1.4 million have LBD. These and other dementias are the top cause for disabilities in later life. 68% of nursing home residents have cognitive impairment from Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder. Alzheimer’s disease alone is the 6th leading cause of death in America.
Treatments are expensive. The global cost of Alzheimer’s and dementia is estimated to be $605 billion, which is equivalent to 1% of the entire world’s gross domestic product. In 2014, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $9.7 billion in additional health care costs of their own.
Caring is time consuming and stressful. 87% of Alzheimer’s patients are being cared for by caregivers at home. More than 40% of family caregivers report that the emotional stress of their role is high or very high.
Can Laughter help in Lewy Body Dementia treatment?
The key word here is “help”. In that context the answer is a resounding Yes! and we too would love to see more scientific studies in this field. Here is one from Australia that concluded that “Exposing Alzheimer’s patients to “humor therapy” appears as effective as psychiatric drugs in reducing the agitation that often plagues those struggling with dementia.” This is a classic observation. Laughter Therapy and its many methodologies (Laughter Wellness, Laughter Yoga, Humor Therapy, Clowning…) calms and reassures, and sends a message of light-hearted joy. Beyond the direct health benefits (see below), it often impacts the patients by relaxing the caregivers.
For the record: Some of the hallmarks dementia are wandering, agitation, hostility, and even paranoia. Historically institutions drugged patients and tied them down. It took a while but people slowly started to understand that this type of treatment methodologies often created the very thing caregivers were trying to correct. One effective way to help patients is to relax the caretakers.
Yes! Good for the brain While researchers have been slow in developing treatments that will prevent or slow the progression of dementia at large, they have made some interesting discoveries resulting in recommendations that can be put in place at any age. Essentially they say to “use it or lose it”. The key to growing a better brain is to look for NEW challenges because learning stimulates rapid growth in the connections in the brain, creating a surplus of brain tissue that can compensate for cells damaged by disease. Playing, laughing and being active while accepting new challenges do just that.
Yes! Powerful form of prevention for the body, heart and mind. Laughter has a wide range of known benefits which aid in dementia prevention:
Yes! Helps caregivers cope better. The sacrifices Alzheimer’s caregivers make are great, and range from less time for family and friends and lost income due to missed work, to failing to take care of themselves. Laughter helps caregivers by:
- Allowing them to enjoy the moment. (Laughing is fun.)
- Easing tension and lightening the mood. Breaking the cycle of psychological negativity.
- Relieving stress.
- Promoting mental health.
- Providing a simple and valid form of cardio-vascular exercise.
- Strengthening family relationships.
- Strengthening the immune system so caregivers can stay healthy.
Yes! Helps improve the quality of life of patients. People who live with Alzheimer’s and related types of dementia can suffer from confusion, frustration and depression. These strong emotions can bring anything from negative feelings to anxiety, which can often lead to behavioral problems and even aggression.
Laughter can help alleviate some of these symptoms, improving the quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s, by:
- Allowing them to redirect negative emotion
- Improving social interactions
- Easing symptoms of depression
- Tempering signs of aggression
- Reducing stress
- There is a longing for connection. If the person is all alone, even if they are very deteriorated, there is still a longing for closeness.
- If they can’t communicate through speech they’ll use repetitive motions because they have human needs that need to be expressed.
- Match your voice and breath to the intensity of their movements. Communication may not happen the first time, but it will eventually happen.