There are tons of unexpected, unpredictable roller coaster moments in caregiving. The best way to react? Have some humor! Here’s how humor can change the game.
Family members who are suddenly, and unexpectedly, thrust into the role of caregiver find themselves in a deep pool of unexpected emotions. Anger, denial, and resentment are common. What about laughter? Rarely do we read about caregivers of the elderly practicing laughter but they do. Not only is laughter healthy for the caregiver and the senior but it is a wonderful survival technique.
Caring for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s is exhausting and discouraging, especially when they are family members. The caregiver must simultaneously be compassionate and giving, while trying to contain the grief and sadness that comes from watching a loved one fade away. One must become accustomed to the fact that a loved one is dying while at the same time cherishing every moment with that person. The mental gymnastics would make Freud shudder.
Enter laughter. It is a powerful tool. It can remove shame from an embarrassing situation, encourage a resistant Alzheimer’s patient to eat or bathe, or turn a highly stressful situation into a more relaxed one. It’s as simple as laughing at the simple things.
Did a man who is suffering from Alzheimer’s put on a woman’s hat or gloves? Laugh it away saying he never looked so good in that color.
Did a woman who is suffering from dementia believe that her husband was on the television? Laugh it away saying no one ever broadcast the fact that she was married to a TV star.
Is the elderly patient beginning to eat dog food out of a can? Just laugh and say “Well, unless you want to change your name to Fido, we probably better find you something better to eat.”
There is also a serious side to laughter. Just like small children, Alzheimer and dementia patients can quickly get themselves into dangerous situations if not constantly supervised. Yelling or startling them usually increases the immediate danger. Laughing it off, cajoling, and joking with the elderly patient can correct the situation quickly and help the caregiver to back them out of a dangerous situation.
It is important to remember that although the disease has stolen many things from an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient, it has not stolen their ability to sense another person’s mood. When a caregiver sings or laughs or smiles, the patient will respond in kind. It is the nature of human beings.
And when the worst occurs, when the patient no longer recognizes the caregiver, laughter can ease the pain and safeguard the relationship. Caring for an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient suspends all the rules of life. What is left is authentic love and the ability to experience it in its most raw state. Laughter helps to move us along the path to that understanding.