Research on Humor in Dementia Patients

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In a white paper, Laughter and humor as complementary and alternative medicines for dementia patients Japanese researchers study shows how humor could be used as therapy:

“…Humor has positive physiological and psychological effects in a variety of situations. The psychiatric literature purports humor as an effective tool in psychiatric illness and psychotherapy…

Humor is delicate and sensitive by nature. Humor can be properly appreciated when it is expressed in the right time, right place, and on the right occasion. Confidence, or trust, between the sender and receiver is an important aspect of humor. Establishing this trust is a prerequisite for the introduction of appropriately timed humor. No humor can be appreciated by patients when there is no trust between the patient and care staff. If one side is defensive or angry, he/she may find that the use of humor by the other party is offensive or insulting. Patients may also become upset about jokes made at their expense, fearing humiliation and stigmatization . The appropriateness of humor depends on the culture, education, and cognitive function of the receiver. Therefore, the use of humor must be timed wisely and it must be used carefully.

Dementia patients may be more sensitive to jokes or humor than healthy people because patients in the early stages of the disease know that they have difficulties understanding complicated things. Dementia patients with cognitive impairment have difficulty appreciating the disharmony in information sent as humor. Humor should be presented to dementia patients after close evaluation. There are no definitive rules, but humor should generally be introduced slowly; if there is no response or the response is negative, it may be a good idea to abandon all attempts to introduce humor, at least during that clinical encounter. Humor can be used as a defense mechanism in an adverse setting and has obvious value for dementia patients if it is properly addressed and accepted. But the impaired cognitive function of dementia patients must be kept in mind so that humor is presented at the right time, in the right place, and on the right occasion. Everyone enjoys laughing, but a misjudged humorous comment can cause offense, so although laughter is almost always positive, humor itself can provoke mixed emotional responses…”

Joke of the Day for Dementia Patient Caregivers

An elderly Floridian called 911 on her cell phone to report that her car has been broken into. She is hysterical as she explains her situation to the dispatcher: “They’ve stolen the stereo, the steering wheel, the brake pedal and even the accelerator! ” she cried. The dispatcher said, “Stay calm. An officer is on the way.”

A few minutes later, the officer radios in. “Disregard,” he says. She got in the back-seat by mistake.”

Joke courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

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