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 Laughter (And Dancing!) May Be Best Medicines, New Studies Claim

Two new studies on mental health in nursing homes are raising questions about whether it’s better to leave ’em laughing, or get ’em dancing.
In separate work, researchers found that residents responded positively to what the researchers (unsmilingly) called “humor therapy” and to dance therapy.
In the first, Australian researchers looked at the Sydney Multisite Intervention of LaughterBosses and ElderClowns (SMILE) program, where a comedian performed weekly before residents, and a home staffer was trained to “incorporate humor into daily care.”
Researchers found that the comedy bits “decreased resident agitation after 12 weeks of intervention.” Better, residents remained calmer for 26 weeks after the jokes began rolling out.

“We confirmed that humor therapy decreases agitation,” lead researcher Lee-Fay Low says in the latest issue of JAMDA, the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, “and also showed that it increases long-term levels of happiness in nursing home residents.”
It’s not all fun and games. Low and her colleagues say they hope that their findings will lead more providers to reach for the joke book before the prescription pad. Joke “therapy should be considered as a nonpharmacological strategy before commencing drug treatments for behavioral disturbance in nursing homes,” Low and her colleagues say.
Elsewhere in the same issue of JAMDA, Czech researchers examined the impact of dance classes on depressed seniors in skilled nursing homes. After three months of classes on the waltz, foxtrot, cancan, and more, seniors in the classes showed “significant improvement” in their depressive symptoms. Those who didn’t join the dance classes actually got worse, lead researcher Hana Vankova says.
Vankova and her colleagues say they have a hunch about why even wheelchair-bound elders might enjoy the lessons.
“Dance therapy is not only about physical performance,” she says, “but rather social interaction, with strong emotional aspects. Familiar movements accompanied by music that elderly participants used to listen to while they were young might also provide a unique contribution.”
Overall, the team believes that “traditional dance and reminiscence” can result in “positive changes” for seniors who are depressed, Vankova says.
Bill Myers is Provider’s senior editor. Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @ProviderMyers. 
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