An Australian study has found that laughter may be the best medicine for patients suffering from dementia.
The SMILE study, conducted in 36 Australian residential aged-care facilities, used staff members acting as “Laughter Bosses” who worked with humor practitioners with comedic and improvisation skills — not unlike “Clown Doctors” used in hospitals to aid recovery and lift mood in children. The teams worked with residents suffering from a number of dementia-related ailments and found that laughter may be just as effective as mood-enhancing drugs in relieving patient agitation.
The idea for the study came from Jean-Paul Bell and Dr. Peter Spitzer, co-founders of the Australia-based Humor Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides clown doctors as humor therapy for sick children.
According to the study, between 70 and 80 percent of dementia patients suffer from troubling agitation that hinders caregiver efforts, often leading to unmet patient needs. Traditionally, patients are treated with antipsychotic prescription drugs, which cause thousands of deaths and strokes each year. The study found that, through humor therapy, agitation dropped by about 20 percent among patients, comparable to results achieved through pharmaceutical treatment.
Agitation decreased not only during the 12-week humor-therapy program, but remained lower at a 26 week follow-up. Happiness and positive behavior rose over the 12 weeks of the program, but dropped as soon as humor practitioner visits ceased.