Humour therapy is as effective as widely used antipsychotic drugs in managing agitation in patients with dementia - and avoids serious drug side effects, a new study to be presented this week at the National Dementia Research Forum shows.
The first major study of the impact of humour therapy on mood, agitation, behavioural disturbances and social engagement in dementia patients found both short term and persisting decrease in agitation, according to lead researcher, Dr Lee-Fay Low, a Research Fellow at UNSW's School of Psychiatry.
The SMILE study across 36 Australian residential aged care facilities involved the recruitment and training of a staff member to act as a "LaughterBoss" who worked with a humour practitioner with comedic and improvisation skills - not unlike "Clown Doctors" used in hospitals to aid recovery and lift mood in children.
Jean-Paul Bell, the key humour therapist in the SMILE study, has set up the Arts Health Institute (AHI) to train humour practitioners and aged care staff. The AHI's core program, Play Up, provides a playful relationship with residents and staff in aged care, focusing particularly with people with dementia.