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Laughter Is The Best Medicine, Or Is It?

Just about everybody agrees that laughter is a good thing, although a couple of recent studies are trying to take the “guffaw” out of belly laughing, especially for senior citizens. Before you read any further, (although if I try really hard, I think I understand their point), don’t believe it. Smiling, giggling, chuckling or gut wrenching laughter is not only a good thing, but possible for everyone, at any age. That’s why elderly people in assisted living or nursing homes are frequently entertained by planned events created with laughter inducing antidotes in mind.  It’s also why a sudden collapse on the steps of a restaurant on a family outing turned into a chuckle.

Instead of becoming just another grim reminder of my mother’s failing health; the incident was turned into a “silly,” when my husband asked her, “What in the world made you decide to suddenly plop down on those steps and sit on my foot?” Yes, you got it, humor took the edge off. Maybe it’s not laughter, but being silly, that makes everything so much more fun. I can recall countless times with family and friends when just because of the “mood” of the crowd, something as simple as playing word games while stuck in traffic can turn into euphoric laughter. My “study” included both young and old participants.

Laughter by *cho-oka on deviantART

Study Number One  ScienceDaily (June 5, 2010) — A sense of humor helps to keep people healthy and increases their chances of reaching retirement age. But after the age of 70, the health benefits of humor decrease, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) have found. Study Number Two  ScienceDaily (Aug. 2, 2007) — It’s no laughing matter that older adults have a tougher time understanding basic jokes than do younger adults. It’s partially due to a cognitive decline associated with age, according to Washington University in St. Louis researchers Wingyun Mak, a graduate student in psychology in Arts & Sciences, and Brian Carpenter, Ph.D., Washington University associate professor of psychology.

Three different cognitive measures were tested in the study — abstract reasoning, short-term memory, and cognitive flexibility. Previous researchers have attributed some of the age-related deficits in humor comprehension to deficits in frontal lobe-mediated abilities. Laughter is a physical activity — it burns calories, strengthens abdominal muscles, and boosts the immune system, among other benefits. Although they did not study the specific benefits of laughter and humor, it has been well documented that, as Mak said, “It can’t hurt your physical state to be able to understand humor.”
Laughter also has sociological benefits and plays a role in building and maintaining relationships. Thus, many older adult day services and programs incorporate humor as a way to improve both physical and psychological aspects of participants’ lives.

The idea that humor can help older adults cope with life-changing events is not a new one, but relatively unstudied by researchers. “The holy grail is, of course, humor appreciation. Understanding how humor comprehension works in older adults is the first step in this process,” said Carpenter.
As mentioned earlier in the article, understanding the humor process especially that of those cognitively impaired, may reveal better methods of reaching this group who will ultimately benefit.
Until such time, it is hoped that recognizing the positive effect of laughter and finding ways to add humor to the lives of the elderly in assisted living or nursing homes, or anywhere for that matter, is something worth striving for.

Short-Term Benefits
A good laugh has great short term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.
Laughter can:
Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Long-Term Effects
Laughter isn’t just a quick pick me up. It’s also good for you over the long haul. Laughter may:
Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can impact your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. In contrast, positive thoughts actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.
Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter may also break the pain spasm cycle common to some muscle disorders.
Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
Best of all, laughter makes us feel good, and it has absolutely nothing to do with age.

800Seniors.com is a leading referral system in the Elderly Healthcare industry. We are located on 5400 Atlantis Court, Moorpark, California 93021. 800Seniors.com provides the perfect match between seniors searching for health care provisions such as Home Care, Home Health, Skilled Nursing, Hospice Care, Medical Supplies, as well as a variety of Assisted Living Houston and Care Homes nationwide. Take the confusion and hassle out of the search. For more information call 1-800-768-8221, visit http://800seniors.com or fax us your details at (805)517-1623.

About The Author: Gloria Ha’o Schneider is an expert in senior citizen and baby boomer issues. Her topics revolve around Senior Living and Healthcare to provide the latest information to this demographic as well as their families and loved ones.

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