Change in Sense of Humor Could Be Early Sign of Dementia

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Change in Sense of Humor, Early Sign of DementiaAccording to a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, changes in an individual’s sense of humor may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal dementia.

A research team from University College London in the U.K. discovered that an individual whose sense of humor decreases with age is more likely to experience behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD). This form of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is characterized by a change in behavior that typically begins years before the disease onsets. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, memory issues aren’t highly associated with FTD.

Researchers also discovered that changes in one’s sense of humor may be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s. This is one of the most common forms of dementia and affects nearly 5.3 million Americans.

For the study, researchers reached out to relatives and friends of 48 people who suffered from different forms of FTD or Alzheimer’s, as well as 21 healthy people, and asked them to complete a series of questionnaires about their loved one’s sense of humor.

Family and friends were asked to rate their loved one’s liking for various comedy styles, including satirical comedy, absurdist comedy and slapstick comedy.

Relatives and friends were also asked if they noticed a change in the individual’s sense of humor within the past 15 years and if there were times their humor became inappropriate.

The team discovered that compared to healthy people and individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s, people with bvFTD more likely had inappropriate incidences of humor, such as laughing at tragic events in their personal lives or things that people wouldn’t normally find funny (e.g. a barking dog).

When compared to healthy individuals, the team also discovered that people with bvFTD or Alzheimer’s preferred slapstick humor instead of absurdist and satirical humor.

Researchers further noted how relatives and friends of dementia patients noticed a change in their loved one’s sense of humor at least nine years before dementia symptoms began to surface. This indicates that a change in humor could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or FTD.

The team believes that their findings could lead to a better diagnosis of dementia by identifying changes in sense of humor as a possible early indicator for both diseases.

Study leader Dr. Camilla Clark suggests that the findings should make clinicians more aware of these symptoms as an early sign of dementia. Furthermore, underlying clues of what we find funny now could help differentiate between various diseases that cause dementia.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Whiteman, H. “Changes in Humor May Be Early Indicator for Dementia,” Medical News Today web site; November 11, 2015;
“Altered sense of humor in dementia, Camilla Clark et al.,” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, published online 24 September 2015; doi: 10.3233/JAD-150413.