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Living and Laughter With Alzheimer's
By Jim Greenwood 
(Page 1 of 2)

There’s nothing funny about Alzheimer’s. But in the 13 years I lived with the disease (AD), I learned that a good laugh is often the best medicine.

Before AD claimed her life, I tried to make my wife Maxine as happy as possible every day of the week. Even though she had lost her memory, she responded cheerfully to amusing stories of our marriage and to my limited repertoire of jokes.
One thing about AD, you can repeat a story or gag to a victim of Alzheimer’s, and it’s always new.

A good laugh is good for the heart and mind. Like exercise, it makes blood vessels work more efficiently, especially those in the brain.
Laughing on a regular basis increases the average blood flow 22 percent, while mental stress decreases 35 percent, according to the American College of Cardiology.

Laughter is not a substitute for exercise, however. But the University of Maryland School of Medicine reports that those who laugh frequently are healthier than those who don’t.

Its studies revealed that 30 minutes of exercises three times a week, coupled with 15 minutes of laughter daily, are not only good for the vascular system, they can help ward off depression.
And depression is one of the fundamental factors in the building blocks of dementia.

Moreover, ongoing studies at the University of Chicago show that laughing regularly can stimulate genes involved in developing a healthier brain. Unfortunately, the brains of persons with AD are generally beyond repair.
Nevertheless, for some unknown reason, a funny anecdote or gag can evoke a positive response from AD sufferers.

I’d tell Maxine little witticisms related to our travels, like the time we enjoyed a delicious ham sandwich in an elegant Geneva café, only to find out later we had eaten donkey meat.

No one appreciated the therapeutic value of laughter in a senior setting more than entertainer Art Linkletter, who spent much of his time and energy boosting the spirits of AD victims all across the country.
One elderly woman in a St. Louis care home turned the tables on Art when he asked, “Do you know who I am?” The lady said, “No, but if you go to the front desk, they’ll tell you.”

One-liners are best. People with AD can usually grasp short, punchy sentences more easily. The late Rodney Dangerfield was a master of the one-liner. (“My girl called and said come on over, nobody’s home. I went over. Nobody was home.”)
To see Maxine grin broadly, and at times laugh out loud, gave me more gratification than most anything else I could name.


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