Keeping Your Sense of Humor as a Family Caregiver

Date:

January 14, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Caregiving is a serious responsibility requiring physical and emotional energy and commitment. Caregiving is also the knowledge that caring for a family member with chronic illness such as Alzheimer’s disease or any physical illness is a long-term marathon, not a short-term sprint. Finding or keeping a sense of humor can help a caregiver maintain their physical, mental, and emotional health.

In this article, learn about the medical benefits of laughter and strategies for keeping a sense of humor to improve your overall health and quality of life.

The Health Benefits Laughter and Humor

Researchers measured the hormone levels of 14 volunteers over a three-week period before and after they watched a funny or distressing video clip. Participants who watched the humorous video experienced improvements in their blood pressure and hormone levels, while those who watched the distressing showed no significant change. According to the scientists, this research suggests that patients who cannot engage in exercise may be able to reap similar benefits from laughter. This may be particularly helpful for elderly and frail patients who cannot withstand the rigors of physical exercise.

Reference: Laughter Found to Create Health Benefits Similar to Those of Exercise

Laughter may also help Elders suffering from loss of appetite, in regaining their appetite, according to the researchers. They concluded that laughter might have a beneficial effect in the treatment of appetite loss and ‘wasting disease’ that is common in elderly patients.

“Laughter activates the chemistry of the will to live and increases our capacity to fight disease. Laughing relaxes the body and reduces problems associated with high blood pressure, strokes, arthritis, and ulcers. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. It can be a domino effect of joy and amusement!” Reference: Laughter

Laughter is the “Best Medicine” for Your Heart, From the Research links laughter to the healthy function of blood vessels. (University of Maryland School of Medicine).

“We don’t know yet why laughing protects the heart, but we know that mental stress is associated with impairment of the endothelium, the protective barrier lining our blood vessels. This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart attack.”(The researcher) said that the most significant study finding was that “people with heart disease responded less humorously to everyday life situations.” They generally laughed less, even in positive situations, and they displayed more anger and hostility.

“The ability to laugh — either naturally or as learned behavior — may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer,”  “We know that exercising, not smoking, and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list.”

Can A Smile Reduce Stress?

A new study by scientists at the University of Kansas has found that a smile on your face – especially a genuine one using both mouth and eye muscles – may help lower heart rate after stressful activities. The new study, led by Sarah D. Pressman, Ph.D.

From the study: “Age old adages, such as ‘grin and bear it’ have suggested smiling to be not only an important nonverbal indicator of happiness but also wishfully promotes smiling as a panacea for life’s stressful events,” Ms. Kraft said in the release. “We wanted to examine whether these adages had scientific merit; whether smiling could have real health-relevant benefits.”

“Previous research shows that positive emotions can help during times of stress and that smiling can affect emotion; however, the work of Kraft and Pressman is the first of its kind to experimentally manipulate the types of smiles people make in order to examine the effects of smiling on stress,” the Association for Psychological Science (APS) said in its release.

The researchers found that the participants who held the chopsticks in a smile position, particularly those who held a genuine or Duchenne* smile, had lower heart rates after a recovery period following the stressful activities than those who held neutral expressions.

* A Duchenne smile involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and forms crow’s feet around the eyes).

Conclusions

“These findings show that smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy,” the Association for Psychological Science concludes in its release about the study. “The results of the study suggest that smiling may actually influence our physical state.”

“This is not going to cure you if you have chronic stress or a major life event like a tornado,” Dr. Pressman, the co-author of the study, told CBS HealthPop. “But, it’s almost impossible to be really angry or really stressed with this big smile on your face…. You can’t help but reduce that negative effect.

Strategies for Caregiver Humor

Learning from Others

  1. A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver – by Ellen Woodward Potts, Co-author, September 10, 2011

“I remember one Christmas dinner when Maria was about 3 and wouldn’t eat her green beans, something that had to happen before I would allow her to eat her roll. She was sitting between me and her Papa who had Alzheimer’s disease. After many stern reminders on my part, Maria finally ate her green beans. When she turned to ask if she could have her roll, Papa grabbed her roll and ate it before she could register a protest. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw what he had done. The horrified look on her face was hysterically funny.

Should I have felt guilty about laughing at this ridiculous scene? No.

I once saw David Hyde Pierce, the star of “Frazier,” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Leno asked Pierce about his work with the Alzheimer’s Association and told him about a comedian who had made fun of people with Alzheimer’s. I will never forget David Hyde Pierce’s answer (my summary): There are some people who have never been touched by Alzheimer’s disease and are so blissfully ignorant that they can make fun of it. For them, I wish them to continue in their blissful ignorance. Then, there are the rest of us who have been so profoundly changed by Alzheimer’s disease that we realize you have to laugh to keep you sanity.

This is one of the universal truths about any type of dementia: Both the caregiver and the person with dementia have to keep their sense of humor to keep their sanity.

When Papa ate the children’s cake and ice cream at Julie’s birthday party; when we gave my grandfather wine upon the doctor’s recommendation and he said this was the only place he’d ever been where they only gave you vinegar to drink; when Aunt Lola said she read the National Enquirer as a supplement to the Bible; when I introduced Danny as a “good Methodist boy” to my grandmother, a good Methodist herself who had not spoken in several months, and she said, “I like boys like that!” — In all these situations, we had a choice: Should we laugh or cry?

You have a choice, too. When you choose laughter, you choose respite for yourself as a caregiver, you choose sanity, you choose health, and perhaps, you choose connection with your loved one. Even in the late stages, smiles and laughter are some the few things that successfully connect with someone with dementia.

Don’t feel guilty. Life is still to be celebrated, even in the midst of tragedy. There will always be tears. Make sure there will always be laughter, too!”

  1. Humor from the Elderly: A Reminder that Laughter is the Best Medicine – YouTube video. 

A friend of the couple who founded Home Instead Senior Care, Mary Walker Maxwell, was asked to give the invocation at the company’s 2009 Convention. Initially, it seemed like a normal prayer, but it soon took a very funny turn. Her deadpan delivery and lines like “You don’t get a chance to practice getting old. This is the first time I’ve ever been old… and it just sort of crept up on me.” and “There were signs. Random hair growth. That’s special. ” Soon she had the franchise owners rolling in the aisles. With the timing of a professional comedian, Mary shines a very funny light on the foibles of aging, to the delight of this audience of senior-care experts. Disclaimer: posting this video does not imply promotion of the home care company. 

Blessed In Aging by Esther Mary Walker

Blessed are they who understand my faltering step and shaking hand
Blessed who know my ears today must strain to hear the things they say.
Blessed are those who seem to know my eyes are dim and my mind is slow
Blessed are those who look away when I spilled tea that weary day.
Blessed are they who, with a cheery smile, stopped to chat for a little while.
Blessed are they who know the way to bring back memories of yesterday.
Blessed are those who never say “You’ve told that story twice today”
Blessed are they who make it known that I am loved, respected, and not alone.
And blessed are they who will ease the days of my journey home, in loving ways.

  1. All it takes is 10 mindful minutes, Andy Puddicombe from a TedTalk, YouTube Video.

When is the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking? Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe uses humor and juggling to describe the transformative power of doing just that: Refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present.

  1. Still Having Fun and over 100 Years Old YouTube Video

Dorothy Custer demonstrates one of the secrets of her longevity to Jay Leno. It’s comedy! She has appeared twice on “The Tonight Show.” As a teacher some years ago, she found a better reaction. 

  1. Humor? At a time like this? Yes! Laughter, like crying, provides an outlet for relieving feelings of stress and anxiety. Laughter can help “clear your head,” helping you to look at a situation from a new angle.

Tips for adding more humor to your life:

  • Learn to laugh when facing life’s challenges. Rather than saying, “We’ll laugh about this someday,” look for the humor in the situation, and give yourself permission to laugh now.
  • Seek out funny cartoons and articles online or in the daily paper.
  • Create a humor file of cartoons, articles, and jokes you hear and jot down. Share them with others. Realize that you can’t control the world around you, but can control your inner reality and perceptions.
  • Use positive self-talk.
  • Take yourself lightly. Learn to laugh at your situation, and at your mistakes.
  • Memorize at least two jokes. Tell them!
  • Watch animals, which are usually entertaining.
  • It’s easier to find humor when you are with others, rather than by yourself.
  • Read the funny greeting cards. Send to yourself or someone you know might be struggling.
  • Put on your “humor glasses” and look for the lighter side of life.

*Axioms Sayings with a light-hearted touch on memory, and lack of it.

  1. Everyone has a photographic memory. Some don’t have film.
  2. He who laughs last, thinks slowest.
  3. A day without sunshine is like, well, night.
  4. On the other hand, you have different fingers.
  5. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
  6. Back up my hard drive? How do I put it in reverse?
  7. I just got lost in thought. It was unfamiliar territory.
  8. When the chips are down, the buffalo is empty.
  9. Seen it all, done it all, can’t remember most of it.
  10. Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don’t.
  11. I feel like I’m diagonally parked in a parallel universe.
  12. He’s not dead, he’s electroencephalographically challenged.
  13. She’s always late. Her ancestors arrived on the Juneflower
  14. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.
  15. I wonder how much deeper the ocean would be without sponges.
  16. Honk if you love peace and quiet.

*Axioms: “an established rule or principle or a self-evident truth.” – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

Edited by Zanda Hilger, LPC


We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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