Why Laughter May Beat Medications for Dementia Treatment

When it comes to dementia, a big belly laugh may be the best medicine. New research indicates that laughter may be just as effective as antipsychotic medications for reducing anxiety in elderly people with dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias have no truly effective treatments, a fact that has compelled experts and laymen alike to seek alternative ways of treating these diseases.

A recent report, aptly named the SMILE study, was conducted by a group of Australian researchers, who set out to discover whether humor could improve the lives of people living with dementia.

Over the course of three years, humor therapists were tasked with getting 400 dementia-stricken people to giggle more often. Their efforts produced an impressive result: a 20 percent reduction in anxiety – the same amount as a typical antipsychotic medication, according to lead researcher, Lee-Fay Low.

Since agitation and anxiety are often the root causes of outbursts and wandering in people with dementia, being able to reduce these feelings would have a positive impact on the lives of those with the disease and their family members.

Making the case for humor therapy

True to its reputation as “the best medicine,” laughter and humor therapy actually falls into the category of complementary and alternative medicine.

The use of humor therapy for dementia patients is debated in an article published in the BMC Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

According to the experts, the always complex issue of humor, is made even thornier by cognitive impairment, the hallmark symptom of many dementias.

As their disease progresses and their mental functioning is reduced, a person will become less capable of understanding complex jokes. Thus, they may become defensive if they perceive that someone is laughing at their expense.

However, if introduced gradually, humor and jokes can produce positive feelings in a person with dementia, leading to the benefits of increased immune functioning and greater pain tolerance.

What do you think about these findings? Are your surprised by the power of laughter?

“Laughter May Be As Effective as Meds in Dementia Treatment” originally appeared on AgingCare.com.

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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor


William C
William Cabout a year ago


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

Stephanie B.
Stephanie B3 years ago

Thx, shared.

Shalvah Landy
Past Member 4 years ago

I do believe in the power of laughter, however if a person lacks a 'funny bone' to begin with I doubt they'll develop it when they are older and particularly with cognitive problems...

Franck Rio
Past Member 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing

heather g.
heather g5 years ago

Laughter is a wonderful healer. Staff make all the difference in long-term care....

There are many newer facilities that have well-trained staff - but many elderly people are not that fortunate to be living in them. They have to put up with being ordered around and fit into time-lines of management. I hope that doesn't happen to me....

ScoTT Senate
ScoTT S5 years ago

Doesn't anyone remember Norman Cousins' Anatomy of an Illness? He tells the story of how he laughed himself free from cancer by watching Marx Brothers movies. The mind, properly harnessed, is probably the greatest healer that has ever existed. Have you heard of the term "neurobics"? It means, obviously, exercises for the brain. Do things differently. Brush your teeth or write with your opposite hand. Take a different route to work. Turn those photos on your desk upside down. Rearrange the furniture. Exercise, even a slow walk around the block, stimulates blood flow. Find creative and new ways to challenge your thinking patterns. You can always build new neural pathways.

Val M.
Val M5 years ago


Annelies Haussler
liessi Haussler5 years ago

Anything that can be done to avoid medication. The older we get, the older our organs get and all those pills can be hard on the liver.

Jess No Fwd Plz K.
Jessica K5 years ago

Doesn't sound like it can hurt any to enjoy life, regardless of physical state. Maybe laughter gives more incentive to stay cognizant. Thanks.