When You're Smiling... the benefits of laughter in Aged Care

When You're Smiling... the benefits of laughter in Aged Care

Last week Julie and I attended a session of the Occupational Therapists’ Association looking at the benefits of humour in Aged Care. They also talked about the use of humour in diffusing difficult situations or situations with heightened emotions. It was held at the Selwyn Village, part of the Selwyn Foundation.

There are physical, social, and mental health benefits of humour. It increases joy, vitality, and resilience. One point they made was how laughing with others is far more powerful than laughing alone.

From a more medical point of view, humour stretches and relieves muscles in the whole body; it increases the intake of oxygen; can lower blood pressure; and can lessen mild depression and anxiety. Laughter is also thought to help with memory, possibly because of the resulting lower stress associated with it.

The session was presented by a group called the “Clown Doctors New Zealand”. These people are specially trained to bring humour into the medical, aged care, and dementia facilities that they visit. They all wear red noses but aren’t heavily made up in the way of a traditional clown, and so don’t seem intimidating.

The only clown doctor I knew of before this meeting was Patch Adams, acted wonderfully by the late Robin Williams in the movie “Patch Adams”. Patch Adams really was a medically trained doctor and he used clown humour to cheer up patients in the hospital in which he worked, helping their treatment and rehabilitation.

Clown Doctors NZ aren’t medical doctors but they do have extensive training in using humour to help people, and take into account the patient’s / resident’s medical and life history in deciding what humour would be appropriate.

The Clown Doctors are not free, so therefore won’t be an option for every medical facility or rest home. It seems to me that for them to be of therapeutic value, rather than just an entertainment role, they would be best to be visiting regularly and frequently.

So what about those unable to regularly use the Clown Doctors? Clearly employing humour whilst caring, in my instance, for people living with dementia is a great thing to do. But I’m not a showman sort of personality, I’m just not. Perhaps a one-off session with the Clown Doctors could be just the ticket to teach myself and my colleagues how to be humourous and not feel self-conscious about it.

How else can we employ humour at work in the rest home or dementia facility, or for someone at home with a loved one?

I remember reading that people living with dementia can often be partial to slap-stick kind of humour. 'Laurel & Hardy' springs to mind. Or the programme 'Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em'. Or 'Mr Bean'? Maybe watching such a comedy programme in place of the TV News would be beneficial? Most of the news we see/hear about is negative and does little for our sense of wellbeing - how much better to experience humour and feel uplifted?

And of course laughter is good for everyone, so we should all be on the lookout for more. I will be trying to find the funny side of the incidents that happen at work and see if I can turn a cross word or misunderstanding into an opportunity for a laugh.

See more about the Clown Doctors New Zealand

I have found at the dementia home I work at residents really enjoy the humour in our Mindjig Reads: Animals with Personality poems and story.