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Is There Anything Funny about Alzheimer’s Disease?

By Kathie Chicoine

Of course, there’s nothing remotely funny about the disease itself. There are, however, funny situations that will occur. As a nurse who has worked with families and residents on Alzheimer/Dementia units for twenty years, I’ve been able to see that families who are able to cope with the disease by using humor have a much easier time of it.

Several years ago my dearest friend, who is also a nurse, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It broke my heart; and every time we get together, I see the deterioration in her language skills and judgment. Thankfully, she continues to have her wonderful sense of humor. That is true of most people who have Alzheimer’s disease. If they had a sense of humor before being struck with the disease, they will continue to enjoy and respond to humor. Here are a few examples of humor in action.

When someone is admitted to an Alzheimer/Dementia unit, they are usually asked some questions to see the degree of memory impairment. Here are some questions and answers.

Question: What is your favorite color?

Answer: Oh, I have so many, I don’t think I could just pick one.

Question: What did you have for lunch?

Answer: Something hot.

Question: How many toes do you have?

Answer: Quite a few.

As you can see, these are wonderfully creative answers. They’re not exactly right, but they’re not exactly wrong, either.

At a Jewish nursing home several years ago, we were in the midst of a state inspection. Miriam, one of our 90- year-old residents who loved complaining about the food, was questioned by the state inspector about her favorite topic— food. She could not have been happier to respond. Looking up at the inspector, she said, “The meat is so tough, you have to soak it in the milk.” State inspectors don’t generally have much of a sense of humor; or at least, they keep it well hidden, so I ‘m not sure if she was as tickled as I was with Miriam’s answer. Since the home kept a kosher kitchen, meat and dairy were never served at the same meal. Miriam may have been soaking her meat in something, although I doubt it, but I’m sure it wasn’t milk.

Nettie would come up to the nursing station every afternoon and ask, “Am I all paid up?” I would respond, “Yes, you’re all paid up ‘til April.” (This happened in February.) In a few minutes, she’d be back asking the same question and I’d give her the same answer. This would be repeated 10 to 15 times before she’d decide to wander into the dining room. One day, I decided to see what would happen if I changed my answer.
She came up the station and asked her usual question, “Am I all paid up?”  I said, “No, you’re not paid up, so pack your bag and get ready to go.” She looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes and said, “I am too paid up. I’m paid up ‘til April.” I had to laugh out loud and confirm, “You sure are—you’re all paid up ‘til April.”

It’s important to be flexible and to maintain a sense of humor in day-to-day situations.

Remember, wearing a stained shirt or having two socks on the left foot and no sock on the right, or picking up Jell-O with fingers will not bring the world to a standstill. So try to lighten up; you and your family member will both feel better.

Kathie Chicoine is a nurse who has worked with residents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and their families for over 20 years. She recently started a blog about the importance of humor when dealing with Alzheimer’s:

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