Laughter: The Right Prescription for Stressed Out Caregivers

Laughing CaregiverSadly, Alzheimer’s disease robs an increasing number of older Americans of their memories and the ability to care for themselves. Additionally, caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s are often placed under significant stress and are frequently overburdened as their challenges increase with the progression of the disease. In fact, caregivers are sometimes called the “second victims” of Alzheimer’s disease.

Clearly, there is nothing funny about the degenerative effects of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. However, experts tell us that humor can play an important role in reducing caregiver stress while also having beneficial effects on your loved one in the form of reducing agitation and aggressive behavior.

Grant Yourself Permission to Laugh – You Deserve It

Ms. Shellie Kermin, Community Relations Director of North Woods Village at Edison Lakes says, “If you are caring for a loved one at home today, it is important to remember that despite the unhappy circumstances, laughter is not only acceptable, it is beneficial to you and your loved one. Your laughter can send a positive, calming message to your loved one. If you don’t get upset during a challenging situation, it’s likely that they won’t either.”

“Therefore, don’t feel guilty. Give yourself permission to laugh at the absurdities you and your loved one experience and try to surround yourself with laughter and love. Keep in mind that you’re not laughing at your loved. Your loved one is separate from the disease that sometimes causes the humorous behaviors and situations.”

Laughter Provides Both Physical and Emotional Benefits

In her article, “Laughter is the Best Medicine: How to Find Humor in Caregiving,” Mary Beth Sammons highlights the physical and emotional benefits of laughter and provides useful suggestions to help caregivers find humor in difficult situations. Benefits include:

  • Laughter can increase blood flow and heart rate, mimicking the effects of exercise.
  • Some studies have shown the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost levels of immune cells. And, of course, increased stress is associated with reduced immune defense, so anything that helps reduce stress is potentially useful to the immune system. High stress levels are also associated with caregiver burnout and depression.
  • Laughter relaxes the body. For this reason, it can help with sleep and pain relief (laughter releases endorphins, the body’s “feel good” chemicals).

For those who aren’t prone to creating moments to poke fun and laugh at themselves in the midst of caregiving, these tips are helpful for finding humor:

  • Consider watching some comedy movies, sitcoms or listening to comedians’ recordings with your loved one. YouTube is a great resource for free videos! Type in almost any subject and find funny videos of all kinds, plus clippings of old shows, such as “The Honeymooners” and “I Love Lucy.”
  • Encourage your loved one’s sense of humor and help set an environment of levity.
  • Lighten the atmosphere yourself by sharing a funny story. If your loved one has a good sense of humor, encourage it.
  • Seek out books, sites and people who encourage the brighter side of caregiving. A favorite book in this category is, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir by Carol O’Dell, which tells about her caregiving journey with her mother who had Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. The story is touching and will also make you laugh out loud.

Similarly, Angela Lund, a Dementia Education Specialist in the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, says in her article,“Alzheimer’s Support Group Gets Lift from Humor, Sharing,” “I see humor as one of the key ingredients to cultivating resilience in life. Studies show that laughter boosts the immune system and triggers the release of pleasure-inducing neurochemicals in the brain. It’s no secret that sharing laughs makes us feel better and helps us bond.”

Help Is Available for Caregivers

Today, a variety of resources is available to assist caregivers who are caring for their loved ones at home, including Alzheimer’s Association services, support groups, self-help guides, Respite Care services, in-home support, community-based services and educational programs. Progressive residential Memory Care Communities (MCCs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, offer a variety of educational programs, support and special events designed to help family caregivers.

Guiding. Caring. Inspiring.

For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and appropriately provide in the home environment, leading, residential Memory Care Assisted Living Communities (MCALs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its “NEW DIRECTIONS”SM  program in Mishawaka, IN, provide the full continuum of services that have been shown to improve health and well-being, support brain health and delay the progression of memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

At North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, we believe senior adults thrive in an environment that offers an active, vibrant lifestyle with a variety of activities that engage the mind, body and spirit. Our “NEW DIRECTIONS”SM  provides a safe, professional environment and proven, best-practice programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.

For more information and helpful resources, contact us today!