The Aussie researchers noted at the outset of their study that between 70% and 80% of dementia patients experience anxiety, distress or agitation. These symptoms can manifest themselves in aggressive, repetitive behaviors. The researchers then decided to find out if humor could help. They looked at 399 nursing home residents with dementia. All the patients had lived in their respective facilities for at least three months. However, none was considered to be in an end-of-life situation or suffering from severe psychosis.
Now here’s where the laughter came in. A clown trained to engage in humor-based therapy in a medical setting performed weekly humor sessions with the residents. The clowning sessions involved the use of humorous improvisation skills. And if you think you’ve heard of this technique before, you’re right. A Hollywood movie from a few years back showed a prominent doctor using clowning to help heal sick children.
The researchers wanted to find out if the clowning could lift the mood of the patients, and get them conversing and interacting physically with their bodies.
The researchers found that the humor intervention worked well for almost all the patients. The laughter therapy also minimized the potential for such risks as falling and premature death often associated with prescription meds. In all, the researchers calculated a 20% drop in overall agitation. And this decrease lasted for at least 14 weeks beyond the conclusion of the clowning program. All in all, the humor therapy had a clinically significant impact on patient agitation, equal to what you might expect following the use of standard antipsychotic medications.
Maybe laughter really is the best medicine sometimes.