One day last week after leaving the house in a rush from having overslept; I suddenly broke out into a cold sweat wondering if I had unplugged the iron, turned off the stove, filled the dogs’ water dishes, and set the alarm. 15 minutes into my drive I could no longer bear it, so I turned the car around and went back to check all of these things. No, I don’t suffer from OCD, and as far as I know, my cognitive abilities are still quite sharp. But when we are under stress (for example, in a rush), short- term memory goes down the tubes.
Did I maybe just need a good laugh?
Short term memory is responsible for processing information that comes in from our senses, encoding that information so it can find a permanent home in our long term memory, to be later drawn back out when we need it. Short term memory is pretty important, even though it can’t handle a lot of information at once, and it can’t hold it there very long.
In older adults, research has shown that short-term memory deficits can result in making serious errors when taking medication, not doing physical therapy exercises correctly, or even missing health care appointments!
Most medical practitioners have begun to recognize the value of integrative approaches that go beyond traditional medicines and tap into holistic wellness solutions. Cognitive training, certain vitamins and herbal supplements, and (no surprise here) physical exercise, all help in improving short-term memory in older adults. One study, however, found that humor could have clinically significant benefits and rehabilitative properties with respect to short-term memory in this same population.
Two groups consisting of men and women average age of 68.7 and having normal cognitive scores were divided into two groups: the control group and the humor group. The control group was asked to sit calmly (no cell phones, reading, or dozing off) for 20 minutes; the; the humor group could select either a Red Skelton comedy video or 20 minutes worth of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Learning tasks (e.g. a word list) were presented to assess short-term memory—such as learning ability, delayed recall, and visual recognition of words. Saliva cortisol levels (the stress hormone) were also measured at various times.
Researchers found significant differences between the control and intervention group on all fronts. Learning improved by 38.5% in the humor group (24% in the control group). Delayed recall (remembering) improved by 43.6% in the humor group, and 20.3% in the control group, and the cortisol levels were significantly lower in the humor group as well.
What does this mean to those of us who are journeying into our older years? Stop taking life so seriously all the time and start laughing more. Build laughter into your daily routine as you would exercise. Hit the nostalgia channel on your cable dial and watch a couple of episodes of I Love Lucy, The Golden Girls, Seinfeld, Modern Family, or whatever sitcom, movie, or theater production that makes your sides ache with laughter.
Memory Note to Myself: From here on in before I leave the house, I plan to think of something funny I saw or heard recently, and have a good laugh to set the tone for the day. I will make and check off a short list of the things that need to be in order before I leave the house. And I will cherish and preserve my memory—- for as long as I can remember to do so 🙂
Gains, G.S, et.al. (2014). The effect of humor on short-term memory in older adults: a new component for whole-person wellness. Advances. Spring Vol 28(2) 16-24.
©Raeleen Mautner, LLC
- A man goes to a psychiatrist. “Nobody listens to me!” The doctor says, “Next!”
- The Doctor says, “You’ll live to be 60!” “I AM 60!” “See, what did I tell you?”
- The doctor says to the patient, “Take your clothes off and stick your tongue out the window”. “What will that do?” asks the patient. The doctor says, “I’m mad at my neighbor!”
I don’t know about you, but Henny Youngman jokes still crack me up every time. They are so simple and goofy, that for a few moments all the problems of the world slip away as I lose myself in a good belly laugh. But that is not where it ends. The effect of laughter lasts far beyond the last line of the joke. Yes, humor does give us a mood lift, but did you also know that laughing has an influence on your physical wellbeing too?
So how is laughter important to aging happy?
Well, if you have ever suffered from the chronic pain that affects so many of us later in life (and it is estimated that over 50% of older adults deal with some kind of ongoing pain), this might interest you:
Researchers conducted an experiment with two groups of nursing home patients, a population that usually suffers a higher rate of chronic pain than do older adults living in the community. One group (the experimental group) was exposed to an 8-week humor therapy program and was compared to the “control” group, who did not receive the intervention. When the program came to an end the findings were significant. Those who had the “humor training” reported substantial decreases in pain, diminished sense of loneliness, and significant increases in happiness and life satisfaction. No such changes were reported amongst the control group (by the way, this group was then offered the humor therapy group in accordance with good research ethics).
The researchers offered several suggestions to increase humor in the lives of an older population, but one of them especially piqued my curiosity, because I had never thought of it before.
We all know that increasing humor in our daily lives, makes us feel good, and there are many ways to do this:
- Rent a funny movie at the end of the day
- Watch your favorite comedy TV show
- Hang out with a friend who always makes you laugh
- Put on some music and dance or sing with abandon
- Play with your grandchildren or pets
- Watch old clips of your favorite comedians on YouTube
The researchers found, that despite patients’ physical conditions, making a “Happy Folder” can empower them to manage their symptoms. They don’t go into detail about what goes into a Happy Folder, but I would think anything that makes you laugh or smile when you re-read your entries.
- Funny stories that happened to you or someone else you know
- Jokes (like the Henny Youngman one-liners he was famous for)
- Philosophical musings about the absurdity of something you’ve observed or experienced.
The possibilities are endless! I say we all start our own Happy Journal and see what happens. If you have an entry that you’d like to share, do comment below. At any rate, please “like” and share this post with your friends, or with anyone who needs a laugh today. So happy to have you on board!
Reference: Tse, Mimi M., et. al. (2010) Humor Therapy: Relieving Chronic Pain and Enhancing Happiness for Older Adults. Journal of Aging Research.
© Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2018