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Article Archive >> Senior Life

Laughter...it is really the best medicine?

Laughter...it is really the best medicine?
By Tawnya Creager, Community Outreach Director
Easter Seals Adult Day Services

As a society we are constantly reminded how to take care of ourselves. What to eat, how to exercise, which medications to use, and the list goes on and on but when was the last time your doctor prescribed laughter? Is the old adage true - Is laughter really the best medicine? Enda Junkins, a Laughing Psychotherapist certainly thinks so! Ms. Junkins explains that laughter is a birthright to all human beings. It is actually misunderstood and undervalued as a healing, cathartic process. Heavily identified with humor, laughter is generally deemed appropriate only for lighter, more frivolous concerns and things that are funny. Certainly humor is one trigger for laughter but not the only one. If one entertains the idea that laughter is a physical process, which releases emotional pain, then other, more serious triggers like stress, anxiety, and tension will make sense. According to psychologist William James, "We don't laugh because we're happy. We're happy because we laugh."
Dr. Madan Kataria began laughter clubs in 1995 with only five members, after he realized the tremendous power of laughter and its efficacy as the best prescription for wellness. Dr. Kataria's primary objective was to promote world peace through laughter. Today, the laughter movement is widely accepted and has become a global phenomenon with over 6000 clubs in 60 countries. Laughter Clubs have brought smiles and laughter in the lives of many people suffering from physical, mental and emotional upsets.
The simple fact is that, for humans to be happy, one needs a network of healthy emotional relationships. To achieve this goal, Social Laughter Clubs have proven very valuable as they provide an important social aspect to the lives of many, and has rescued them from loneliness and isolation.
In a recent article in American Family Physician reported; "Current predictions suggest that the number of persons 65 years and older will more than double in the U.S. during the next 30 years. As a result, the number of elderly Americans could increase from 34 million in 1998 approximately 69 million in 2030. This increase, combined with the disproportionate rate at which elderly patients use medical resources, will require that primary care physicians become increasingly knowledgeable about the needs of geriatric patients and increasingly efficient in the evaluation and management of concerns unique to these patients."
Additionally, many caregivers report concern with a number of mental health issues facing their loved ones, such as, loneliness, depression, suicide, anxiety, schizophrenia, alcohol or other substance abuse, and Alzheimer's disease in later life. Laughter Clubs may not cure these conditions, but the initial field reports strongly suggest that the method portends great benefits. Besides the emotional care, these clubs help seniors to exercise and regain their strength, stamina and energy, which diminish with age and lack of physical activity. Listed below are some of the characteristics of Laughter Clubs that contributes to their potential as therapeutic activities.
* Adaptable to all levels and limitations of cognitive, sensory, and motor ability.
* Does not require any ability to tell jokes or perform humorously.
* Takes place in a socially supportive setting.
* Encourages healthy attitudes and peace of mind, such as through paying a compliment and being less angry.
* Provides a simple, structured, playful routine.
* Lifts the spirits of staff and participants alike.
* An inviting, not demanding, activity.
Laughter Clubs are fully independent, not-for-profit, non-political, non-religious and non-competitive community based clubs. Everyone is welcomed regardless of gender, age, physical ability, social or economic backgrounds. Anyone can join and even better anyone can start a Laughter Club!
The healing benefits of Laughter Clubs are different for each individual. Many members with chronic pain, migraines, headaches and asthma have found attacks to become less frequent and in some cases, to disappear completely. Others who had suffered with high blood pressure, severe spinal, neck or shoulder problems and even diabetes have found their life normalizing eventually requiring no medication.
Several individuals who have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and chronic stress-related diseases have reported moving from debilitating fear and anxiety to a more positive state of mind, transforming their quality of life. People who have harbored bitterness, hatred and other long-term emotional problems have found their problems released through the cathartic effects of laughter, leaving them feeling joyful and free. Even members with cancer have managed to shrug their fear and pain after a period of laughter. It has helped them and their families to accept the situation in a more positive manner and has helped reduce the trauma.
Members of a Laughter Clubs are continually encouraged by each other. This is what seniors from a retirement home in Ohio had to say about the club.
Margaret C., 88 years old: "We enjoy our class very much. It is entertaining, delightful, fun and helpful physically. Laughing is contagious and reaches out to others."
Beulah M., 89 years old: "I've noticed a tremendous change in my lung capacity. My breathing is much better."
Vi K., 81 years old: "Thanks to a wonderful, happy laughter leader. I look forward to the fastest-funniest fantastic times of the month. It is a great tension tamer & relaxer."
Social Laughter Clubs have the power to reach beyond the healing power of laughter. The effective network of caring-sharing relationships is the key to a happy and healthy life. Relationships with people with whom we laugh regularly can become very strong.
Here's an example: a laughter club member was devastated when his uninsured shop burned down. He was ruined. The fire left him in debt with no means of supporting himself and his family. The members of his Laughter Club pooled together and raised money to rebuild his shop and provide new stock, rebuilding the life of someone they held dear.
Laughter Clubs provide a rich social network of people who care about one another, and perhaps even more importantly, a way of getting to know new people. This provides a sense of emotional security, which resists stress and promotes excellence in all other areas of life. As the years roll on and add up, those who have the opportunity for long lives seem to develop a stronger appreciation for humor and laughter that can lift the spirits, chase the blues, overcome loneliness, and assist in maintaining strength and flexibility.
If you would like to learn more about the Laughter Clubs visit: www.laughteryoga.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=198:laughter-clubs&catid=90:about.

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