My grandmother was a lovely lady with a unique sense of humour and a very kind heart. Her love for children extended to all the youngsters in our neighbourhood whom she welcomed into her home and spoiled with plenty of sweet treats.
Sadly, this was no longer the case a few years before she passed away. Age-related dementia started to take its toll and we helplessly watched how this cruel disease slowly stole a loved one away from us.
At first, she was just forgetful before the confusion started to set in. Soon she lost her memory completely and became very aggressive... she had turned into a shouting, nasty, angry woman that no one recognised anymore.
No laughing matter
The harsh reality is that for some dementia sufferers it gets much worse than simply just being mean. Most dementia patients eventually suffer from agitation that can be so fierce that it frightens family and friends.
Dementia-related agitation includes physical aggression, repetitive behaviour, wandering, screaming, etc. It's a daunting experience — for both the patient and their family or caregivers, and one I hope not many of you will ever have to live through.
Doctors typically prescribe side effect ridden antipsychotic drugs to alleviate agitation. However, perhaps you'll be willing to try a slightly different approach before opting for prescription drugs... After all, you are still dealing with someone who is very close to your heart.
The best medicine
Recently, Australian researchers teamed up with the Arts Health Institute (AHI), an organization that trains "humour practitioners" who specialize in working with the elderly.
They conducted a study in more than 35 assisted living facilities to test humour therapy in subjects with dementia and agitation. After 12 weeks, researchers found that humour therapy reduced agitation by 20 per cent, on average.
This is a remarkable outcome because it's about the same result seen in the use of antipsychotic drugs... Adding the fact that the side effects of these drugs include stroke and death, there's no argument that humour therapy might be the better option.
But the good news doesn't stop there. In a follow-up at 26 weeks after the end of the humour therapy period, the researchers found that agitation remained at the improved level.
Previous studies have also shown that a good belly-laugh stimulates the release of feel-good endorphins, which also reduce pain, pacify stress hormones, enhance the immune system, and help control blood pressure.
So, if you know someone who's suffering from dementia- related agitation, suggest humour therapy as an alternative to antipsychotic drugs. Combined with acupuncture and massage these therapies will certainly help to prompt endorphin release and help alleviate the effects of agitation.
It's worth a try and won't do any harm.
"Laughter Lift" UNSW Media Office, University of New South Wales, 9/21/11, unsw.edu.au
Thank you for this valuable information. We need all the help we can get ... humor therapy sounds like it would be good for the entire family.
Thank you Steph, I will have to look into this and see if there are any local programs.