Dose of humour improves quality of life for people with dementia

In fact, a recent study into the effects of humour therapy on mood, social engagement and agitation in older people with dementia in residential aged care found it had a similar effect to antipsychotic medication in reducing agitation, but without the side-effects, according to Dr Spitzer, Medical Director and Co-founder of Australia’s Humour Foundation.

Dr Spitzer, who will discuss the Sydney Multisite Intervention of Laughter Bosses and Elder Clowns (SMILE) Study, is one of six speakers at a day of workshops and presentations about dementia care and practice in Newcastle on Tuesday 13 November, 2012, hosted by the NSW/ACT Dementia Training Study Centre (DTSC) and the Dementia Collaborative Research Centres (DCRC).

Environmental design expert and NSW/ACT DTSC Director Professor Richard Fleming will lead a workshop explaining how improvements to the physical environment can reduce agitation and confusion for people with dementia and Sydney gerontologist Sharon Wall will discuss pain recognition and management. There will also be presentations on younger onset dementia, details of an award-winning program to improve quality of life through therapeutic gardens and interactions with younger generations, including mothers’ and babies’ groups, and ways to support overseas qualified nurses working in dementia care.

Dr Spitzer said his workshop will explain the science and research evidence behind humour therapy as well as introduce participants to some plays, ideas and techniques of humour therapy.

The workshops and presentations are aimed at health professionals and aged and dementia care service providers. The NSW/ACT DTSC, based at the University of Wollongong, is one of five centres established by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing to improve education on the care of people with dementia and translate existing research into practice.

The SMILE Study is the world’s first high quality, large scale research project to examine the effects of humour therapy on older people with dementia. It was conducted by the DCRC at the University of NSW and The Humour Foundation between 2009 and 2011, with 400 residents in 36 facilities.

The SMILE Study assessed the impact on residents of using The Humour Foundation’s Elder Clowns and Laughter Bosses’ therapeutic clowning program, which Dr Spitzer started in 2004.

“Elder Clowns are highly skilled professional performers trained by The Humour Foundation to work in aged care and dementia facilities. Each Elder Clown is paired with a selected healthcare professional from the aged care facility who is trained to be a Laughter Boss, in charge of dispensing humour therapy,” Dr Spitzer said.

“You introduce elements that have play, magic, music, appropriate mischief. The most important person in the room is the resident, not the performer. This is person-centred care. You are looking for the response from the resident – the way to open the door.”

“No matter what level of dementia a person has, the appreciation and feeling that come with laughter and humour is retained. It’s not about passive entertainment. It’s about engagement, contact and communication.

“The Laughter Boss continues the tricks, plays and stories after the performer has gone. This is something that staff can pick up on and use in their day to day situations.

“It is a way for aged care facilities to bring smiles and laughter into their environment on a regular basis. It helps engage, uplift and improve the quality of life of residents living with dementia. The entire facility benefits – residents, families and staff.”

Anglican Care recently introduced the humour therapy program into eight of its aged care facilities in Newcastle and the Central Coast, with 30 staff trained as Laughter Bosses, according to the organisation’s Jane Meldrum.

Dementia is a highly debilitating, life-limiting disease that currently affects more than 300,000 Australians. The number is expected to be almost 1 million by 2050. Australia’s health ministers this year made it a National Health Priority Area.

Event details: Tuesday 13 November, 2012. Crowne Plaza, Newcastle, corner Merewether St and Wharf Rd. For details and registration: or call Ruth Lilian (02) 9385 2702, email [email protected]. Registrations close: Friday 9 November.

Media note:

Dr Peter Spitzer will be available for interviews on Wednesday 7 November on 0438 613 148.

NSW/ACT DTSC Director Professor Richard Fleming is available for interviews on 0403 285 340.

Media inquiries: Kerry Schelks 0410 594 470

Supplied image for reproduction: Dr Peter Spitzer in the role of Elder Clown.