By Mathieu Powell
Are you laughing less than you used to? Are your days growing grey with the weight of responsibility for the person you are caring for? Does it feel like you're growing disconnected from them?
There is a simple way to rekindle your zest, lighten your load, and deepen your connection: When you are feeling overwhelmed with the burden of caregiving, nothing transcends all problems better than a belly laugh with your charge.
Most people know about the positive benefits of laughter—increased endorphins, reduced tension, and the connection of shared emotions. Sadly, most people believe laughter is accidental. That's just not true. Yes, laughter is involuntary, but you can foster laughter in your life with some amazing strategies that will send you both down laughter lane.
Reopen the door to laughter.
First, you must decide to laugh more often. This may sound like trite advice, but it all starts with a decision. When you get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, "Today, I will laugh often and freely." Then stretch your face with your biggest grin and chuckle. If you turn this into a daily morning ritual, it will help you adopt a more playful attitude and encourage you to look for the humour in the crazy, ridiculous, and even inconvenient things that happen in caregiving every day. Those things that currently stress you out might actually make you laugh if you choose to let it happen. Focus on being more relaxed, even irreverent at times.
Laughter is infectious.
Many people with mid-to-late Alzheimer's are still capable of getting a joke or seeing the absurdity in a situation. Even if they don't get the joke, they will laugh almost reflexively, mirroring the emotion of those around them. Mirrored laughter is just as "real" and produces the very same benefits as humour they comprehend.
Watch comedies and comedians.
It's easy to find great material on the internet through YouTube or Netflix. Start with a Google search for "best comedy movies" or "funniest videos." If you are able to leave your house, rent DVDs featuring more physical humour over dialogue. Charlie Chaplin movies or other slapstick comedies are sure to evoke some belly laughs.
Reminisce about the good ol' days.
Your loved one may not remember what they had for breakfast, but they do remember the events and stories that have always made them chuckle. Remind them of funny family stories: what the uncle did at their wedding or stunts you and your siblings pulled off as kids.
Encourage visitors to laugh.
Visiting family and friends often feel they must remain serious around loved ones with Alzheimer's or dementia. They often feel laughter is inappropriate. Share some funny stories with them and teach them that it's all right to relax and laugh. Everyone will feel less awkward and more accepting.
Don't be ashamed of laughter. Yes, Alzheimer's and dementia are awful, but it is far better to recognize and appreciate the unpredictable funny moments that come up while caring for your parent or family member instead of ignoring them or getting upset. In the human condition, laughter is one of our greatest gifts. Enjoy it.