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Laughter Could Help Dementia Patients: Study

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 09/19/2011 11:36 pm Updated: 11/19/2011 4:12 am

Recent research has shown that laughter could lower your blood pressure and increase your tolerance of pain, but a new study shows that it could also help people with dementia to be less agitated.

The study conducted by researchers from the New South Wales in Australia showed that humor reduced dementia patients' agitated behavior -- like wandering, screaming, aggression and repetitive behavior -- by 20 percent, The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia reported.

Four hundred nursing home residents, most of whom have dementia, participated in the study. Researchers looked at the effect that a "humor therapist," named Jean-Paul Bell, had on 200 of those residents. The "humor therapist" usually worked as a clown doctor at children's hospitals, but for this experiment he dressed up as a regular elevator attendant, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

From The Herald:

Mr Bell raised a smile or two by chatting away to imaginary people on the end of an old-style telephone handset and waved a magic wand about, asking residents what they wished for.

In some senior centers, "humor therapists," who are also known as "elder clowns" use jokes, stories, music and magic to "help stimulate memory and cognitive functioning," according to a recent Lancet article. For example, an "elder clown" may ask someone with dementia to tell a story or give some life advice. The clown may also act foolishly or purposely misunderstand instructions so that the residents "have the opportunity to tell the clowns what to do," the Lancet article said.

In an article published last year in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine,, Japanese researchers investigated why laughter could work as an alternative therapy for people with dementia.

They wrote:

Laughter has been regarded as beneficial for human health for a long time, with some of the benefits attributed to laughter including improved immunological and endocrinological responses and increased pain tolerance.

However, they noted, humor must be timed and introduced appropriately, because people with dementia could become upset if they perceive a joke as offensive or insulting.

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