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I watched the funniest show this weekend with my young adult children; we laughed and laughed until tears were streaming down our faces and it was hard to breathe. As we attempted to regain a bit of composure, I noticed the stress I had been experiencing earlier in the day had vanished. I was completely happy and relaxed.

Studies have found laughter to be the most cost-effective, easy-to-use strategy for dementia patients and their families to reduce the overwhelming, stressful emotions common to the illness. In fact, patients often feel fear, depression, hopelessness, and sadness related to the losses associated with dementia; family members must cope with added burdens of caregiving, role changes, and continuing grief. The social life of a dementia patient is impaired by the illness, often isolating them from others. Laughter can provide a feeling of unity, of bonding with family and caregivers. Dementia patients can quickly become anxious and irritated in their surroundings, feeling unsafe and insecure. Negative emotions then snowball, like a speeding runaway train if not carefully eased and redirected. The ability to laugh and smile naturally decreases over the course of the illness; laughing for social communication is lost, but the response that releases tension is preserved until advanced stages of the disease. Encouraging individuals with dementia to laugh and smile reduces negative behaviors and feelings. A word of caution here: sometimes people feel they are being made fun of, they are self-conscious about their impairments and misunderstand the humor in certain situations, therefore be sensitive to the needs and level of understanding of the person with dementia.

Laughter truly is the best medicine when you consider the numerous mental, physical, and social health benefits it brings.
• Eases anxiety and fear
• Relieves stress
• Increases energy
• Enhances resilience
• Adds joy to life
• Improves mood
• Boosts immunity
• Decreases pain
• Relaxes muscles
• Lowers stress hormones
• Prevents heart disease
• Strengthens relationships
• Promotes group bonding
• Helps defuse conflict
• Attracts us to others

If you are not enjoying a hearty, healthy laugh regularly try creating opportunities to do so by watching a funny movie or TV show (like I did), read the funny pages, seek out funny people, share a good joke or funny story with a friend, play with a pet, goof around with children, do something silly, or make time for fun activities (e.g., bowling, walking, dancing).

Laughter is an ongoing, regular occurrence at Aspen; it is part of our daily routine to promote quality of life in our great clients and in our selves.

Giggle, giggle, laugh, laugh…:D
~Tamara Nixon, BS, CHES

Laughter: A Powerful Medicine for Body and Mind