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Laughter is an effective treatment for agitation

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Humor therapy is as effective as widely used anti-psychotic drugs in managing agitation in patients with dementia. Laughter also has no side effects.

The first major study on humor will be presented this week at the National Dementia Research Forum. The study looks at the impact of humor therapy on mood, agitation, behavioral disturbances and social engagement in dementia patients. They found both short term and persisting decrease in agitation according to their lead researcher Dr. Lee-Fey Low from the UNSW’s School of Psychiatry.

Referred to as the SMILE study, the researchers looked at 36 Australian residential aged care facilities. They trained one person to be the “Laughter Boss” with improvisational skills. The role was modeled after Clown Doctors who have had a lot of success working with children in hospitals.

Dementia rates in Australia are expected to double in the next 20 years. Agitation is a serious problem for 70-80% of the population with dementia, affecting them and their caretakers alike. “Agitated behaviors include physical and verbal aggression, wandering, screaming and repetitive behaviors and questions. This is challenging for staff and often indicates unmet needs and distress in the residents of aged care facilities,” explained Dr. Low. The SMILE therapy created a 20% reduction in agitation using humor therapy this compares very similarly to the reduction produced by anti-psychotic drugs. “This shows humor therapy should be considered before medication for agitation, particularly taking into account its side effects.”

Not only were the results immediate, but lasting. At the 26 week follow up agitation remained lower.

Source: UNSW, MedicalNewsToday

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