Humor and Caregiving

Laughter is the best medicine. This expression is as true for caregivers as it is for patients.

As a caregiver, you may feel as though you have nothing to laugh about. Or you may think it is inappropriate to laugh if it involves the person you care for and your role as their caregiver. Or you may feel guilty about laughing and injecting any fun in your day when your loved one is sick and needs your help.

There is nothing to feel guilty about. Not only should you not feel guilty or think that it is inappropriate to laugh, professionals will recommend humor as a secret and powerful tool in the caregiver’s toolkit.

The thing to remember is that you’re not laughing at the person. You’re laughing with them and maybe at the circumstances you find yourself in, sometimes very absurd or ridiculous ones. Some things really are just funny. Or you’re laughing because if you don’t laugh you’ll cry.

One funny caregiving story comes from a daughter who visited her dad in a nursing home nearly every day. He had dementia and although he didn’t know her as his daughter, knew that she was a familiar face and someone he liked. Normally he was quite happy to see her. One day, though, that wasn’t the case. He was irritable and didn’t want to visit. Instead, he wanted to go back to sleep. She helped him to his bed and said, “okay dad, I’ll see you later”. He replied, “Don’t hurry back”. The daughter could have been upset by his words but instead chose to see the humor and laughed all the way home.

Researchers have been studying the benefits of humor since the 1970’s. Here are some of the ways in which humor may help:

  • It can relieve tension and help alleviate anxiety.

  • It can provide comfort and reassurance that the person will be okay.

  • It can change the mood. When either you or the other person is frustrated or angry, it can help turn things around and remind you of what’s important.

  • It can serve as a distraction if the person is irritable or not feeling well.

  • If the person has dementia, it can promote a sense of trust. The person may see you as someone who is friendly and ‘safe’ to be around.

How can you use humor with intention and create more joy in your day? Laughing together and sharing a giggle over something as silly as a cat video can be a great way to bond. As you know, laughter is contagious so create some funny moments on purpose.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Watch a comedy together. Depending on the age of the person you care for, they may enjoy old ones like Modern Times with Charlie Chaplin, Singin’ in the Rain, or the Odd Couple.

  • Tell silly jokes. Knock-knock jokes never get old.

  • Invite someone who you know is funny over for a visit. Everyone has that one friend or relative who is always upbeat, positive and can make you laugh.

  • Watch funny animal and baby videos. YouTube will provide you with hours of entertainment.

  • Recall funny stories that have happened to you over the years.

  • Reminisce with photographs of family and friends in goofy poses.

Next time you want to hold back your laughter, don’t! Go ahead and give yourself permission to laugh out loud! It will be good for both of you!

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