How Comedy Helps Dementia Patients

Comedy and Dementia Patients


What person doesn’t feel good after having a good laugh? According to research and anecdotal evidence, even older adults with mild to moderate dementia feel positive following a humorous experience. Research continues to explore how comedy helps dementia patients.


In fact, one study relates that the effects of humor are similar to the effects of aerobic exercise in older adults. While there are many forms of humor, a more interactive humor experience appears to most benefit those with mild to moderate dementia. Comedy improvisation with dementia patients is one such method.


Defining Comedy improvisation


Comedy improvisation is an active mode of theater that engages participants to react and respond in the moment as opposed to memorizing and performing a scripted show. Rather than passive listening to jokes and one-liners, participants create the jokes themselves using improv games and role-playing exercises. For example, an improv workshop facilitator might begin a workshop by asking participants to throw an imaginary ball to each another. When someone “catches” the ball, she must share something that she loves or something that irritates her. The next level is to act out that feeling using the principal of showing as opposed to telling. The facilitator might also include dress-up opportunities so the participants can play different characters.


Benefits of Comedy Improvisation in Older Adults


Despite impaired memory and reduced cognitive functioning, participants succeed because in improv—it is the present time that matters and the imagination that is called to action. They are freed from their greatest weakness: memory. The benefits of facilitating comedy improvisation with dementia patients include:


  • Increased concentration
  • Improved memory and communication
  • Increased cohesion of participant group
  • Increased levels of appropriate laughter
  • Improved social interactions
  • Decreased depression
  • Positive feelings and associations


While humor has been recognized and researched for its therapeutic benefits in all populations, comedy improvisation with dementia patients is relatively new to the scene. With further study and implementation, it will become even more accessible to those suffering from the various forms of dementia.


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