Fresh Outlook Foundation

LAUGHTER: Truly the Best Medicine for Seniors of all Ages

Fresh Outlook Foundation

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By Carole Fawcett

I’m 75, and humour, laughter, giggles, and guffaws are interwoven in almost everything I do.

When I had repeat surgery on my legs/hips, I taped a note along the original incision line before going into the operating room. It read, ‘Please cut along dotted line’. I was not awake to see the reaction but was told the medical staff laughed when they saw the note.

I take every opportunity to laugh and see the ‘funny’ in most situations. Why? Because it makes a huge difference in my days and my life. And these practices could transform your life, too.


Chuckles to Belly Laughs

Laughter is contagious. As the owner of a small company called ‘A Funny Business’, I was asked to give a keynote address about stress and laughter to 500 medical IT professionals. There they were ─ sitting with their pocket protectors, eyeglasses, and name tags, looking perplexed ─ seemingly suffering from terminal seriousness. Then I stepped on to the stage belly laughing.

I continued to laugh out loud until they began to join me. It started with the OMG looks they gave one another, but then slowly developed into smiles that spread. This was followed by chuckles and giggles, until most of the audience was laughing with me. It was the magical sound of 500 souls indulging in laughter energy. It felt great!

Whether they were genuinely laughing or just playing along, wouldn’t have mattered, because their brains couldn’t differentiate between fake (simulated) laughter and real (stimulated) laughter. Even with fake laughter, dopamine (the feel-good hormone) and endorphins are released, (the hormone that helps to relieve pain and reduce stress) and serotonin (the happiness hormone) is increased. Fake laughter often morphs into the real thing, so it is completely beneficial no matter why you laugh.


Laughter as Therapy for Seniors

Laughter is good for everyone, but especially for seniors who are isolated, lonely, and/or living alone or in supportive or assisted living. Moving from home to a facility can mean leaving neighbours who are also friends. Holding laughter sessions can help relieve the loneliness or sadness associated with big changes in seniors’ lives.

In his book, Anatomy of an Illness, respected journalist Norman Cousins wrote about how he dealt with the diagnosis at age 50 of ankylosing spondylitis, an arthritic condition that left him bedridden and in horrible pain.

With his physician’s permission, Norman moved out of the hospital and into a motel. He wanted to remove himself from the pain and suffering of others and create a pleasant environment, where he watched funny movies sent to him by friends in Hollywood. He made the happy discovery that ten minutes of belly laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. He recuperated and went on to live many more productive years.

Norman actively used humour during his recuperation, often to the delight of others. Once when he had to have his urine tested, he poured apple juice into the beaker used for urine collection. The nurse arrived, saw the beaker, and said, “Oh, your urine looks a bit cloudy this morning.” Norman responded, “Really? Let me have a closer look. Oh my, you’re right. Let me put that through again.” Then drank it, much to nurse’s horror and subsequent laughter.


Spontaneous Healing Laughter

Sometimes, laughter just happens. When I was volunteering as Flower the therapeutic clown in the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, I came across two elderly gentlemen in the old Emergency waiting room. As a very ‘girly’ clown, I wore a bright pink blouse with puffy sleeves, a short flouncy skirt with appliqued bright flowers, striped leggings, and Mary Jane shoes. I also had a small flower at the end of my nose.

I approached the two men, put my hands on my hips and asked them (in a thick Irish accent), “How do you make holy water?” Quick as a wink, one of the men responded, also in an Irish accent himself, “You boil the hell out of it!” I exclaimed, “That’s my line, you stole my line!” Then his friend said, “He’s a priest!” Turns out, he was a Catholic Priest who grew up in Northern Ireland.  I’m sure our combined laughter could be heard all the way down to the X-ray department.  


Brain Boost From Laughing

Canadian endocrinologist, Dr. Hans Selye proved that negative thoughts cause a negative reaction making cellular changes in our body. The University of Maryland School of Medicine did a study that confirmed Selye’s findings.

One group of students watched a violent movie; the other set viewed a comedy. The blood vessels of the students who watched violent films had narrowed, lessening the passage of blood. However, blood vessels of the students who’d laughed widened, increasing their blood flow. This can be very good for those of us in the later years of our lives as our circulation would improve.


Laughter Exercises for Seniors

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine.” We now know this to be true; it can trigger both physiological and emotional changes in our bodies and minds by boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure and the production of stress hormones, diffusing anger, and increasing the production of NK cells (natural killer cells that help to fight some types of tumours).

We also know that practice makes perfect… and laughter is no exception. Typical laughter sessions start with laughter leaders clapping their hands and saying out loud, “Ha Ha, Ho Ho Ho.” This is repeated several times by everyone in unison. You could also try ‘namaste laughter’, where you put your hands together as though you are praying, bowing from the waist, and laughing toward someone else. Then there’s ‘gradient laughter’, when you smile at someone else, then allow it to morph into chuckles, then giggles, and then into loud belly laughter. Laughter exercises can easily be modified for seniors who need to sit while doing this aerobic exercise.

Or how about ‘penguin laughter’ for those seniors who can take part – you walk like a penguin, arms stiff at your sides, and waddle and laugh. Or you can sit and stiffen your arms and do a mini waddle while seated.

When people are sitting in a circle, they can turn to the people on their right and say “tee-hee” and send it around the circle. In between each laughter exercise participants do the rhythmic “Ha-Ha, Ho-Ho-Ho” clapping. As the event progresses, participants laugh with more and more ease.

It’s a sad fact that, as children, we likely laughed 300-400 times a day, but now, as adults, we are lucky if we laugh 12 times a day. While in the 1930s it was estimated that people laughed about 16-18 minutes daily, it is estimated we are now doing well to laugh for six minutes every day. So, with this in mind, it would be good to inject laughter into your life even more as you get older. You likely have the laugh lines already, so make them deeper and make yourself feel better overall!


Establish or Join a Laughter Club

If simulated laughter isn’t your thing, perhaps you could start a senior’s joke club. Or arrange get-togethers with retired friends asking them to bring funny stories of things that have happened in their lives.

Look for other creative ways to introduce laughter into your life. Perhaps you could establish or join a laughter club; check out the two websites I’ve linked to in the Resource Section. You can even learn how to be a laughter leader via Zoom.

Laughter clubs are worldwide, and thousands of seniors practice this simple but very effective form of aerobic exercise. We have a whole lifetime to draw on that will make us laugh. (it’s never too late). I would also encourage care homes to incorporate laughter clubs as one of the activities they offer.

So, don’t forget, if you are happy, tell your face. Your body will thank you, no matter what age it is.

Start now – “Ha-Ha, Ho-Ho-Ho”…

Carole Fawcett is a retired counsellor and clinical hypnotherapist. As a freelance writer, she has written for newspapers and magazines for the past 20 years. 




Laughter Therapy – How to Laugh About Everything in Your Life That isn’t Really Funny. Annette Goodheart, PhD 

Healing with Humour, A Laughter First Aid Kit. Catherine Ripplinger Fenwick, MCC 

The Healing Power of Humor. Allen Klein 

Health, Healing and the Amuse System.  Humor as Survival Training. Dr. Paul E. McGhee 

Laughter – a Scientific Investigation. Dr. Robert R. Provine 

Web sites:

Laughter Yoga International, with Dr. Madan Kataria

World Laughter Tour, with Steve Wilson


Discussion Questions
  1. Do you enjoy being retired? Do you laugh more or less?
  2. Do you know what stress does to your body?
  3. Do you know what makes you happy?
  4. Do you know who makes you happy?
  5. Do you laugh easily?
  6. What makes you laugh?
  7. Do you suffer from ‘terminal seriousness’?
  8. What do you do when you feel sad or depressed?
  9. What stops you from laughing?
  10. Do you exercise regularly?
  11. Do you get out into nature regularly?
  12. Do you build fun into your life plan on a daily basis?
  13. Will you try laughter exercise?
  14. Would you like to attend a laughter session regularly?
  15. Is there a person or particular group of people who would benefit from you sharing this story?

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