Thursday, March 6, 2014

Did You Hear The One About The Stand Up Comic Who Had Dementia?

Betty White is hilarious and sharp as a tack
The title of this post is not the start of a bad joke. It refers to an interesting research project from 2012 dealing with memory and comedy.

A psychologist from Southern Cross University in Australia studied a small number of elderly people who had the beginning stages of dementia and their caregivers. He discovered something fascinating: comedy helps.

The early dementia sufferers from the study took a series of stand up comedy and improvisation classes. After the classes ended, not only were they able to recognize and laugh appropriately at jokes, but they experienced benefits in other areas as well. They saw an increase in memory, learning, sociability, and self-esteem. In other words, something about the classes helped their conditions improve.

This was a limited study, and there is a lot more research to be done, but it is promising news. It may not be that the comedy directly helped the research participants (although it would not be surprising if it did--we all feel and think better when we are happy and having fun). It may be that interacting with others was the most helpful aspect of the study. Or, it may have been that learning something new stimulated the participants' brains in a way that caused their symptoms to improve.

Whatever the reason, I like the outcome. People with early signs of dementia, who might otherwise be treated as delicate patients who are too far gone for others to help, can improve just by having fun. Very cool news!

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


Stevens, J. (2012). Stand up for dementia: Performance, improvisation, and stand up comedy as therapy for people with dementia; A qualitative study. Dementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice, 11(1), 61-73.


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The aim of this qualitative learning was to explain and inspect the effects of a programmed of standup humor and managing workshops on people with premature stage dementia.

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