Spending time in the hospital doesn't have to be a scary experience. In some cases, it can be downright funny—or so seniors at Sibley Memorial Hospital are finding. Once a month, seniors in Washington's DC area make a trip to the hospital, but it is a visit which they all actually look forward to making. That is because Sibley Memorial plays host to the Laugh Cafe, a monthly comedy meet-up for adults over 50.
The Laugh Cafe, a program sponsored by the Sibley Senior Association, held the first hour-long meeting in August of 2012, and the popularity of the program continues to grow. Participants love the group's camaraderie, and enjoy most of the jokes, even the bad ones.
A rule of the group is that everyone must tell at least one joke, a requirement which scared some of the participants at first. “I never dreamed of telling a joke in front of a group, and the first time I came, I was real nervous,” Jean Altimont, 89, told The Washington Post. But now she feels confident and loves to spend time with her new friends.
Everyone in the group agrees that the Laugh Cafe is making a positive impact on their social lives, and their health: "It’s the best medicine,” said Joanne Philleo, 79, when asked about the importance of laughter to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Why is laughter such good medicine?
Everyone knows the importance of relaxation and having fun from time to time, but humor may be more critical to the health and happiness of seniors than previously thought.
A seven-year study by the University of Science and Technology in Norway reviewed the health records of 53,000 of the country's seniors and found a startling correlation between the sense of humor of patients and mortality rates: Seniors who laugh more, live longer.
Humor and laughter produces a number of positive physiological changes in the body. When people laugh, they:
- Relieve pent up stress and exercise certain muscle groups which reduces tension.
- Increase cognitive functioning by actively engaging the entire brain.
- Decrease the level of cortisol in the bodies, resulting in a reduction of chronic and acute pain.
- Increase the level of natural endorphins which creating a feeling of happiness and sense of contentment.
- Reduce blood pressure while slightly raising heart rate and improving oxygen intake and blood flow.
- Boost the immune system by increasing infection-fighting antibodies.
Turning good humor into good health care.
Not every senior is able to join the Laugh Cafe in Washington, DC, but everyone can, and should, add a more little laughter to their lives. Many senior and local community centers provide similar comedy-focused groups. Check online to find out what is available in your local area.
While a dedicated senior's comedy group is ideal, there are many other ways older adults can inject some humor to their lives. Here are just a few ways to get laughing and to start living a happier and healthier life:
- Learn to recognize the humor around you. When a carefully laid plan goes wrong, you often feel like you can either laugh or cry about it. Laughing is usually the better option.
- Actively seek out humor. Whether it is watching a funny movie on TV or spending the evening at a comedy club, go on a quest for fun and make laughter a part of your life.
- Spend time with people who make you laugh. Avoid being with those who bring you down.
- Try to share a few good joke with your friends. Laughter is contiguous, and the more you make others laugh, the better you will feel.
Good humor is a critical part of health for older adults. Never pass up the chance to share a chuckle with someone one you care about.