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
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
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
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
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.