Hey, did ya hear the one about the quasi-experimental humor therapy study?
Have you ever heard an eldercare researcher tell a joke? It can be a painful experience. No simple knock-knock. No guy walking into a bar. Instead, she'll wave you over, get a smug grin on her face and start with something like, “Hey, did you hear the one about the convenience sample of community-dwelling older people attending senior centers that was asked to participate in a quasi-experimental study to examine the impact of a humor therapy workshop on physical and mental health?”
“Yes, I did. That's a funny one,” you should reply. And then quickly pretend to take a phone call. A long one.
Actually, I found that extremely unamusing study description in the journal Geriatric Nursing. Apparently it describes real research by real scientists, and the important thing is what they found out about the positive effect of humor on senior health. Participants in the “humor therapy workshop” had, and I quote, “lower follow-up levels of anxiety and depression and improved general well-being.”
I really don't know what a “humor therapy workshop” is because that would have meant purchasing the entire article for $14, which I didn't think was funny. But since we work in a profession where patients and family members are routinely facing extremely difficult life situations, it's important that we keep laughter as part of the support toolkit — both for them and for ourselves.
“To the extent you can use humor to change your perspective on things, to see something that is potentially threatening as less threatening, then that allows you to be more efficient in your coping,” says Arnie Cann of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, in an article published by the Association for Psychological Science. In long-term care, that's definitely something we can help our residents with — carefully and tastefully, of course.
Because if we know anything about life, it's that there's always something to laugh about, and for centuries, people have used humor to get through dark, challenging times. As a caveman was carried away by a velociraptor mongoliensis, his caveman colleague tried to lesson the tension by shouting, “Hey Bob, what time shall we expect you back for dinner? Oh wait, you are dinner.” It's a true story. I read it on a cave wall. On the Internet.
In an only slightly more recent example from my own life, I once walked headlong at a high rate of speed into a closed patio door while carrying two (empty) wine glasses. There was a crash and some cute little animated birds circled my head, followed by a rapidly expanding pool of blood on the deck. As I was rushed in shock and pain to the car for the drive to the hospital, I heard an alleged friend say to the assembled group, “I guess when God closes a door, Gary walks through it anyway.” Much laughter ensued, and instantly my gruesome injury was magically healed.
That's another true story, except that the wound actually required five stitches, cost more than $1,000, caused serious nerve damage and my thumb is still entirely numb. But I laughed about it later. Much later.
Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, who has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former SNALF.com at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.