Laughter Gives a Lift to People with Alzheimer’s Disease

Did you play a joke on someone for April Fool’s Day this year? It turns out that humor isn’t all fun and games. A number of recent studies have shown that laughter promotes emotional, intellectual and even physical health. Now, Australian researchers are describing yet another benefit of humor. In a study released last fall, they demonstrated that humor therapy may be as effective as widely used anti-psychotic drugs for managing agitation in patients with dementia.

Smiling Man

The SMILE study (SMILE stands for "The Sydney Multisite Intervention of LaughterBosses and ElderClowns") is the first major research on the impact of humor therapy on mood, agitation, behavioral disturbances and social engagement in dementia patients. The study was carried out in 36 Australian residential senior care facilities, and involved the recruitment and training of a staff member to act as a "LaughterBoss," who is similar to the "Clown Doctors" used in hospitals to aid recovery and lift mood in children.

The SMILE study found a 20% reduction in agitation using humor therapy, an improvement comparable to the common use of anti-psychotic drugs, according to Dr. Lee-Fay Low of the University of New South Wales School of Psychiatry.

Dementia rates are expected to double in the next 20 years, mainly due to an aging population. Between 70 and 80% of people suffering from dementia are troubled by agitation, which is a challenge for patients and their caregivers alike. "Agitated behaviors include physical and verbal aggression, wandering, screaming and repetitive behaviors and questions," explains Dr. Low. "This is challenging for staff and often indicates unmet needs and distress."

Though anti-psychotic drugs are commonly used to control these behaviors, serious side effects including stroke and even death are linked to the use of these drugs in dementia. Says Dr. Low, "This shows humor therapy should be considered before medication for agitation, particularly taking into account its side effects."

Source: University of New South Wales School of Psychiatry and Dementia Collaborative Research Centres.


For More Information


Visit the SMILE Within website to learn more about the SMILE study.