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
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: