Laughter, we’re told, is the best medicine, and there are plenty of residents of Cedar Rapids and elsewhere receiving end of life care who ‘self-medicate’ in the form of funny movies, TV shows, and books.
This is wonderful, declares the team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care. Even though simple humor shouldn’t be considered a complete ‘miracle cure’ for any and all health conditions, some people have reported feeling better, at least temporarily or longer, after a good bout of laughter.
Just look at laughter pioneer Norman Cousins, who was initially expected to pass away rapidly from what was diagnosed as a terminal health condition. But with a combined approach he developed involving a lot of funny old movies and a lot of Vitamin C, his condition improved dramatically.
He then went on to become an advocate for the value of humor in clinical settings and encouraged doctors, nurses, and other administrative personnel to find ways to introduce more fun and opportunities to laugh in their respective worlds. Not only could this positive approach help their own lives but also benefit any patients who they happen to deal with.
Although Cousins did eventually pass away at age 75, his efforts continue to have an impact in the world of medicine. Besides encouraging patients to experience things that make them laugh, more hospitals are offering funny books or videos, and some clinics even offer ‘laugh yoga,’ which encourages people to stretch their funny bones on a regular basis.
Terminal health needs
Although stories like Cousins are always nice to hear, they don’t necessarily apply to people who have been diagnosed with terminal health conditions and not much time left.
Or do they?
Lots of laughter may not reverse individual situations or change terminal diagnoses, but it honestly won’t make things worse.
Being able to find ways to laugh and things to laugh at can actually be great for someone’s quality of life, no matter their point in life.
- Laughter relieves stress. Who has more anxieties, concerns, fears and general worries than someone facing death in the near future instead of people who think of death as something more abstract? Research into end of life efforts shows that being able to laugh can help relieve these fears.
- Laughter is an excellent defense mechanism. Some people may not always feel like being angry, sad or scared at their current circumstances. So feeling amused by circumstances and finding anything to laugh at is a perfectly healthy way to feel and express yourself.
- Laughing can improve moods. So-called ‘black humor’ can lighten a bleak situation, especially if the person making the jokes is the person who is doing the dying. People around him or her may not necessarily be the one to instigate the jokes, but they can definitely feel better about laughing once the tone is set.
- It’s a workout for the body. A good belly laugh is actually exercise! It stimulates the muscles of the stomach and face and helps digestion. It produces happy hormones, pain-relieving endorphins, and tears – it’s as physically and emotionally therapeutic as crying without the sadness.
- It’s good for the brain. Some academic researchers say that the brain enjoys laughter as well – endorphins help release tension and people feel better mentally.
- It helps create valuable memories. Often when a loved one is dying, friends and family try to drop by to enjoy final moments together. Although people may initially feel awkward or not sure what to say or do at first in these situations, once the funny stories start flowing, everyone will feel more relaxed and comfortable. Reminiscing together about fun stories from the past can lead to lots of laughter and bring people closer together. Even after someone is gone, their loved ones will treasure this time together and the happy emotions shared.
- It builds trust. Getting medical personnel to be part of the joke too will relax you and relax them. Your nurses, health care providers, therapists, even hospice workers may all take their jobs seriously, but they also appreciate humor and enjoy when a patient tries to find opportunities to laugh.
- It helps you feel in control. cancer.net said the end-of-life situation can leave people feeling helpless, unhappy and uncertain of what’s ahead physically, mentally, and even spiritually. But giving yourself permission to laugh at the situation can go a long way.
- It can be supportive. Being around other people going through similar circumstances as you can create connections, especially if you all can find humor in the same situations. Perhaps your medical community offers support groups, volunteer opportunities or even online communities to join to discuss the good and the bad of your situations. A program in India called “Laugh at Death” has that purpose of removing some of the social taboos around death, and finding ways to appreciate it and enjoy the experience.
Don’t feel bad if you aren’t sure how to feel or where to start if you do want to laugh more; the staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care is always happy to help give suggestions where and how to start.