Julie Whitehead was invited to run a Laughter session by the Information & Support Worker of the Croydon branch of the Alzheimer’s Society for twelve members of the Croydon Out & About Group with early dementia at the end of October 2008. The session was gentle and playful with many of the exercises done seated, but some movement was encouraged to get the energy flowing and a sense of connection across the group. We did some brain gym exercises, played with laughter sounds, drew self portraits with our eyes closed and laughed and greeted each other in a playful way.
The following Saturday there was a social event for people with dementia and their carers and some of the Out & About Group were there. They remembered the Laughter Workshop, which is a good sign in itself, and were very clear that they had had a good time. They were talking to their carers about it, and we have had comments from the carers (sons/ daughters, husbands/ wives), that the person that they care for came back home or rung them to tell them about the workshop and the fun they had. I understand some of the carers felt a bit jealous that they hadn’t been there for the laughter session!
Three weeks after the Laughter Workshop the Out and About group are still talking about it – which is a really positive response.
Here is some feedback on the Laughter workshop
One lady does not see the purpose in getting up in the morning if she is not going to go anywhere or see anyone – so she just stays in bed. After the laughter session this lady said “laughter is the most wonderful thing in the world!” She also said “laughter is the reason”…a bit cryptic! But I think what she was saying is that laughter gives you a purpose, a reason to get up and going.
Another lady drew comparison with what she usually feels like – isolated, lonely and that everyday is the same. She said “You need to laugh so you can “forget your troubles”. It is healthy to do this. It’s amazing what laughter does”. We talked about the fact that sometimes you have to laugh even if you don’t have a reason, and that this is a good coping strategy.
Another of the group has very bad back troubles, and does not always want to come to the meetings – but I didn’t hear her complain about her back at all, and she made a real effort to get involved. Her good experiences on Thursday will probably encourage her to get involved more on our other trips.
There was also a strong feeling that it was good to laugh within a group, as they like to contribute something and help other people to laugh too. This made them to feel useful to each other and connected, which gave them a good feeling and a sense of purpose. One lady said “you start laughing and everybody joins in”. It also helped them to look outside themselves and their own problems (which is hard to do if you are isolated and have memory problems). Another person said that the workshop was good because it got everyone involved.
It is worth remembering that this group are sometimes reluctant to join things – perhaps because their memory problems cause them to feel embarrassed, unconfident, or shy. A couple of the ladies needed a great deal of encouragement to come to the group, but they were very enthusiastic after our session on Thursday to come again. This in itself speaks volumes! One lady said “I’m so glad my sons encouraged me to get involved, I just love it!”
Sometimes its difficult to record feedback from the group as their tone of voice and facial expressions indicate their feelings, rather than the words they use, but they were all very positive. When asked whether Julie should facilitate a laughter workshop for people with dementia again and the reply was a very emphatic “Yes! She should do it again!” And I think that probably sums it up.