The Serious Benefits of Laughter Therapy for Seniors
July 24, 2020
My grandmother was an avid reader of Reader’s Digest Large Print. I was fascinated at a young age that this periodical was at least half the size of other journals; Time, Life, and Better Homes & Garden to name a few. It was comical to me that my grandmother had a pocket-size magazine with large words; why not simply make the pages big, like the others? Little did I know at the time that this particular subscription was due to her poor eyesight. However, the small size allowed this general-interest family magazine to adopt the slogan, “America in your pocket”.
I enjoy Reader’s Digest as a direct result of observing my grandmother reading it and chuckling to herself. My parents became subscribers, and to continue the legacy, I did as well. Why? As my grandmother articulated to me when pressed, Reader’s Digest is part philosophy, part Americana, and part humor. It is the latter that interested me most. My grandmother offered the following as part of her favorite monthly features; Enrich Your Word Power, Points to Ponder, Humor in Uniform (my grandfather was a verteran of WWII), and Laughter, the Best Medicine.
In essence, there was enough within the confines of this magazine to captivate and mold my young mind. Hearing a grandmother chuckle is enough to fill you with wonder and a budding sense of philosophy and humor; not bad for a publication that reaches 40 million people in more than 70 countries via 49 editions in 21 languages.
Philosophy and Humor
Without diving too deep into a historical and philosophical treatise on humor, the ancient Greeks turned comedy into an art form. Fast forward, French philosopher René Descartes uttered, Cogito, ergo sum – I think, therefore I am. Yes, we humans are meaning seekers; we think, overthink, then think again. Making sense of the world is our reason for being. However, with current events in mind, we know that the whole world cannot be intelligible. Humor is therefore, to some extent, a public phenomenon. Descartes viewed humor as joy mixed with hatred. So, during trying times, a little levity can do a lot of good. This need not mean we have to vacate our intellectual prowess. In fact, wit is intellectual. Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was convinced that a serious and good philosophical work could be written that consisted entirely of jokes. To illustrate one could say, “I used to be indecisive, but now I am not so sure”.
Taking Humor Seriously
Ancient Roman poet and satirist Horace observed, Ridentum dicere verum quid vetat – What is there against telling the truth in laughter? Certainly, we don’t need to quote a latin-speaking dead guy to experience the obvious. Today, we simply say, “It’s funny because it’s true!” In our post-satirical age, we live in a society where the news is funny and comedy is the news. How many times have you witnessed recent events and thought, you cannot make this up?! Humor and laughter provide needed relief to what ails us. Humor has an indefinability. It breaks conventions and pushes boundaries. Humor is playful. When in doubt, doubt!, as they say. Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher and cultural critic, noted that maturity is regaining the seriousness of a child at play. Through this lens, it is worthy for us aging humans to take seriously the benefits of humor and its pleasant byproduct, laughter.
Laughter, The Best Medicine
A study published by PubMed Central (archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine) proves that laughter therapy is an important strategy which has been recommended by experts for increasing health promotion in older adults (see footnote). As the elderly population increases, health problems, especially mental health problems, of such an age become more important. The study uses controlled sessions of ‘laugh therapy’ – where group participants laugh artificially until the laughter becomes genuine, releasing anti-stress and joyful hormones, and ultimately promoting relaxation.
The study concludes that this form of therapy improves general health. Results obtained from this study help authorities in the field of geriatric care to adopt precise plans and policies to increase general health by making “senior citizens and their families aware about the advantages of laughter therapy and establishing laughter therapy clubs”.
We are all aware of mechanisms beyond laughter therapy that can replicate similar outcomes; TV sitcoms, morning coffee with the fellas, a riveting game of pinochle with the ladies, playing fetch with a puppy, watching a friend or relative fall off a dock at the lake, or retelling an old yarn that grandma borrowed from Reader’s Digest. I would be remiss if I didn’t share a few of these jokes for you – dear reader – to help send you on a merry way to overall improved health.
Three old guys were out walking.
First one said, “Windy, isn’t it?”
The second one said, “No, it’s Thursday!”
The third one said, “So am I. Let’s go get a beer!”
“Oh God,” sighed the wife one morning, “I’m convinced my mind is almost completely gone!”
Her husband looked up from the newspaper and commented, “I’m not surprised: You’ve been giving me a piece of it every day for thirty years!”
I’m pretty black and white about most things. Except retirement homes, that’s a grey area.
“Walking is man’s best medicine” – Hippocrates
By Aaron Lamb, Director of Business Development
1Ghodsbin, Fariba et al. “The effects of laughter therapy on general health of elderly people referring to jahandidegan community center in shiraz, iran, 2014: a randomized controlled trial.” International journal of community based nursing and midwifery vol. 3,1 (2015): 31-8.