Recently, I led a Laughter Yoga session with a group of residents at an Assisted Living Facility for people with Parkinson's disease. The laughers were all over the spectrum in terms of the progression of symptoms. Some were able to participate fully with assistance. Others were confined to wheelchairs, and two more were only able to move one foot. One staff member joined us to assist the residents with clapping and Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha Dancing. A few more moved in and out of the circle as they did their regular duties.
We moved through a full Laughter Yoga session with all of the elements. They all laughed, though not all of them laughed out loud. Two of them smiled and laughed by intentionally and rapidly shaking their feet.
I learned four very important things about working with Parkinson's patients. First, people with Parkinson's disease are very smart. Their faculties are fully functioning. They try very hard to understand and participate, but they have delays. While gibberish works very well with Alzheimer's patients, Parkinson's patients find gibberish frustrating because it is unfamiliar to them.
The second important thing I observed is that Parkinson's patients often have trouble walking because they shuffle. Assistants will put out a foot and encourage them to step over it to regulate their gate. However, one beautiful 90 year old lady began to walk normally when we chanted Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha with no assistance.
Third, they like to sing, and choose the songs to sing. My favorite was a Motown hit we sang which really got the toes tapping.
Fourth, they will not give you immediate feedback. Perhaps a week later they will tell the staff, "Remember that thing we did last week? I liked it." Follow up is important.
As with any group with special needs, their kinesthetic feedback is a great deal more subtle than a typical need laughers. Look for eye contact, smiles, intentional breathing, and movement. Be prepared to speak slowly and loudly.
The staff was very impressed at the level of joy and participation. Be encouraged! Parkinson's patients love Laughter Yoga.