With nearly 10 million Americans turning 65 each day, the American caregiving system is seeing a sharp increase in the demand for senior health care. As older adults continue to age, many will experience conditions that over time will require additional support and assistance with basic daily tasks. According to the National Institute on Aging, approximately 85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 60 percent have at least two chronic conditions. For many people, learning to cope with multiple chronic conditions is a challenge, and learning how to manage treatments while maintaining quality of life can be problematic. To address this growing concern for older adults, many healthcare providers are suggesting an untraditional form of care: laughter.
The use of laughter has been used in the medical space for centuries, but researchers began collecting data on its use as medicine in the 1960’s, after renowned journalist Norman Cousins noted his own medical journey with laughter. After becoming diagnosed with a painful spinal condition, Cousins nursed himself back to health by watching comedy programs, which allowed him to relax and rest, helping him gain strength. Since then, researchers have confirmed the medical benefits of laughter on one’s overall health, especially for older adults.
Medical Benefits of Laughter for Older Adults
While laughter doesn’t cure everything, researchers agree it can strengthen the immune system, boost mood, diminish pain and provide protection against the damaging effects of stress. As experts continue to research the benefits of laughter on overall health, data suggests it has many physical, mental, and social benefits.
Mental health experts agree that even at its most basic level, laughter has physical health benefits. When a person laughs, their diaphragm stretches, allowing more oxygen to enter the body and stimulate the lungs. The basic act of laughing relaxes physical tension in the muscles and allows the body to rest. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter also has the following benefits.
According to the American Psychological Association, our bodies are well-equipped to handle small periods of stress. Caregivers report high levels of stress when caring for their loved ones, especially when the person they’re supporting is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
When stress becomes chronic or long-term, it can have serious effects on all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems. Healthcare professionals believe laughter should be included in stress management plans because of the way it reduces stress:
Loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health concerns. A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine states that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. Both caregivers and the person they are supporting are at an increased risk of loneliness and isolation. However, laughter can provide a number of social benefits that can help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation for you and your loved one:
When we laugh, we change physiologically. The muscles in our face and body stretch, our pulse goes up and we breathe faster which sends more oxygen into our bodies. Laughter can be initiated in a number of ways, one of which is through laughter exercise. The American School of Laughter Yoga recommends the following laughter exercises for caregivers and their loved ones:
Prioritizing Laughter at Maplewood Senior Living
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how important laughter is for a person’s overall well-being. That’s why we’ve included it in our nine essential building blocks of healthy aging. Our communities provide residents daily opportunities for connection, socialization and laughter. To learn more about our communities or to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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