Preserving Their Dignity: Humor in Caregiving (Part 1 of 4)

Dignity. It’s a big word that can hold a lot of different meanings. We say someone is “dignified” when they carry themselves well, are poised and command a presence – that they are worthy of respect or honor. The concept and discussion of dignity has been, through the millennia, a matter of philosophy, religion, human rights, law and medicine. Many people view it as a fundamental right, and all of us – no matter our age our status – have an innate desire to have personal dignity and to be treated with dignity.

“Everyone is worthy of being treated with dignity and respect, no matter what their abilities or health status, but sometimes this can be difficult to remember when caregiving for someone with dementia,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. No matter how much the disease changes an individual, says Andrea, it’s important for everyone in their circle – from doctors to caregivers to loved ones – to remember that dignity is essential to quality of life.

At The Reutlinger Community, we strive to educate residents, future residents and adult children about all aspects of the dementia process and best practices for ensuring the best quality of life for your loved one – and yourself. In this four-part series, we’ll discuss the importance of providing dignity throughout the dementia journey and how you can connect compassionately and in fulfilling ways.

The Healing Power of Humor

There’s a reason the old trope that “laughter is the best medicine” has stuck around. Humor is just one of those things that unites us. We giggle with our babies. We laugh with our friends. We guffaw when our older relative says or does something funny. It’s a great way to relieve stress, break the tension and connect with others. Sharing humor instinctively says, “I understand you and we have something in common.”

Humor doesn’t just give us warm fuzzies. According to new research, humor can be as effective as some drugs when it comes to managing agitation in dementia patients. A recent published study from the Osaka University Graduate School of Medicine in Suita, Japan, discovered that humor has positive effects that can last for weeks following a therapy session. Although dementia patients can lose abilities like smiling there are some types of laughter that remain. For example, some patients will laugh or smile after they’ve had a good night’s sleep, or if they’ve enjoyed their meal. The Japanese study also shows that dementia patients may smile or laugh when they’re recognized for an accomplishment or when they reach a goal.

People with dementia can understand “humor” as a concept, too. While the things they find funny may shift as they age and progress through the dementia journey, humor can still be a tool that caregivers use to connect and entertain.

How Humor Can Help You (and Your Loved One) Connect and Care

It’s common for older people to use humor as a coping mechanism, so it should come as no surprise that institutions are using comedy as therapy for older adults – particularly those with dementia. Although it’s necessary to be sensitive to the unique challenges of dementia patients and ensure that laughter is always “with, not at,” humor has shown to be a great coping tool for caregivers, helps build relationships between caregivers and patients and can help defuse tensions and problematic behavior from people with dementia – all of which leads to a heightened quality of life. Here are some ways you can find humor in everyday situations and create opportunities to laugh together.

Find humor in the moment.

While it’s easy to focus on the problems when you’re a caregiver, there are ways to “lighten up” by recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities for comedy. You, your loved one or a passer-by may say something funny – go ahead and laugh! (As long as your loved one understands you’re not laughing at them, of course.

Encourage their sense of humor.

What type of humor does your loved one like? Silly “Dad jokes” or more slapstick options like The Three Stooges? Find what makes him or her laugh, and encourage it by renting videos, watching YouTube clips or even reading funny stories out loud.

Laugh when prompted.

Although this sounds a little strange, there will be times when your loved one finds humor in a situation that you may not find funny or think is a little strange. However, when he or she is laughing about something, go ahead and join in the fun! Even if you’re not feeling upbeat, just smiling will ignite those serotonin sensors in your brain and give you a positive boost.

Keep it positive.

While humor can be found in darker moments, generally it’s best to keep it positive and harmless, like a silly knock-knock joke or watching a video of a cat squeezing into a very tiny box. You can also lighten the mood by sharing funny stories or talk about a time in the past that was humorous – bonus points if it’s a time you and your loved one spent together.

“It’s important to think of humor as a gift we give each other,” says Andrea. “When we make someone laugh, we feel important – which is why encouraging humor in loved ones with dementia is a way to help respect and preserve their dignity. By sharing humor together, you’re validating them as a unique person, which is something we all strive for.”

For more information about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.