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Laughter Might Be Good Medicine for Alzheimer's Patients
Date:10/3/2011

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Exposing Alzheimer's patients to "humor therapy" appears as effective as psychiatric drugs in reducing the agitation that often plagues those struggling with dementia, new Australian research suggests.

In a three-month period, nursing home residents who actively participated in a weekly two-hour clowning session involving music, mime and humorous props showed a significant reduction in both physically and verbally aggressive behavior.

What's more, the 20-percent plunge in overall agitation, which the team attributed to humor therapy, lasted for at least 14 weeks beyond the conclusion of the clowning program, the investigation team found.

"Normally, nursing homes are a little like being stuck on a bad cruise where you can't get off," said study co-author Jean-Paul Bell, creative director at the Arts Health Institute in Avalon Beach, New South Wales, and co-founder of the Australia-wide hospital-based "Clown Doctor" program. "You are getting the creature comforts but no stimulating conversation or playful contact."

Bell and his colleagues sought to implement what he called a "person-centered" therapeutic approach, coupling visual sight-gags -- such as mimicking a conversation through two tin cans -- alongside provocative and irreverent verbal humor to encourage active patient participation and reactions.

The result: "The humor intervention worked well for pretty much everyone," Bell noted, particularly for the "highest-care" patients deemed most debilitated by dementia. As an added bonus, the impact was achieved without running any of the risk for serious side effects, including falling and premature death, that have been previously associated with prescription antipsychotic drugs.

Bell and Australian colleagues (at the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre, the University of New South Wales and Prince of Wales Hospital, amo
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