How Laughter Yoga Changed Me And Others With Dementia
After meeting several physicians for years trying to find an answer to my longstanding problem of a debilitating mood disorder, chronic pain & fatigue, I stumbled into a new way of being with Laughter Yoga. I laughed, breathed & clapped, and felt a joy that I could savor – for hours! I called my dear friend shouting, “Guess what? I feel great! I have to do this. Everyone should have a chance to feel this way!”
This friend had faithfully listened to me for years as I described not only my physical problems, but also my emotional challenges as well. In the past year, I had lost four family members, one of whom died by homicide. I was filled with sorrow. I cried every day. He thought I sounded a bit crazy, but he was all for anything that would make me feel and sound as alive and happy, as I did after my Laughter session.
I attended the Iowa School of Laughter for my Laughter Yoga Leader certification. There I discovered that crying is not the only way to release sorrow. Deep belly laughs are a nice alternative. I stopped crying and noticed some important physical changes. My pain was reduced by 90%. I had more energy. What’s more, I began sleeping restfully for the first time in years.
My own journey with physical and emotional pain has been a blessing in my work doing Laughter Yoga with persons with Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia. I know what it is like to want to participate in life to the fullest, but having limitations that make it impossible. In my first session at Lakeview Ranch in Darwin, Minnesota, an innovative facility for people who have Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia, I expected some would laugh and others would simply hang out and enjoy the positive feelings. But in spite of low expectations, all of 15 residents or so laughed!
One of the residents had decided she would not laugh, but very quickly, the contagious laughter won her over. She has become an enthusiastic member of the group. Residents who began the class unable to clap their hands suddenly started clapping enthusiastically. They had forgotten how to raise their hands over their head, and then, suddenly, they could do it. Many residents seemed irritated. At the end of the session, they couldn’t stop smiling. I’m told their happy mood continued throughout the day. One asked, “When can we do that again?”
Not only are the residents blessed by Laughter Yoga, but also their families. Often, families feel as though their relatives are gone. They’re in body only. The daughter of a resident, who was unable to speak with an expression seemingly frozen in a scowl, connected with her father, and they shared something positive for the first time in a long time.
Of course, Laughter Yoga is a marvelous boost for the staff at a dementia care facility. Their work is hard and thankless. Often, they must assist residents who do not want their help, and will fight not to be helped. Laughter Yoga allows them to connect in a positive way. As one staff member said, “I usually go home and crash on the couch when I get home from work, but today I think I will go home and clean my house.” Instead of feeling drained, she felt renewed.
I am continually inspired and amazed by the incredible results I see each time I work with people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. They don’t remember my name or what Laughter Yoga is, but as soon as we start, they pick up right where we left off. They remember the emotional connection. In fact, their enthusiasm grows with each session.
I am very thankful for my life – all of it. Everything I have experienced thus far, has made my work with these people possible. I feel so blessed to have a new way to live, and a renewed sense of purpose with Laughter Yoga.
About Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia is a brain disorder of declining cognitive abilities. The likelihood of experiencing Dementia increases with advancing age. Alzheimer’s Disease is the major cause of dementia. The main symptoms are loss of memory, confusion, intellectual decline, depression and personality, disorientation and agitation. In advanced stages, the patient becomes incapable of performing even simple tasks of daily living. They become totally dependent upon others and need help round-the-clock.
Worldwide, with a new case every seven seconds, the number of Dementia patients is more than 24 millions worldwide. In India alone, 3.2 million people suffer from Dementia.
Laughter Yoga plays an important role in helping people suffering with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It is ideally suited for such people because they cannot comprehend humor, due to lack of cognitive abilities. Therefore, when laughter in Laughter Yoga is done in the form of an exercise, it brings about the same health benefits.
Laughter Yoga helps to increase the net supply of oxygen to the brain cells thereby improving the brain functions. Also, by releasing certain chemicals from the brain, it helps to elevate the mood states, and lift depression. We also incorporate physical exercises to improve bodily functions. Laughter Yoga has been very well received in senior care centers, and people suffering from Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease have really benefited.
Dr. Madan Kataria