London: A new study has found that humour therapy is as effective as widely used anti-psychotic drugs in managing agitation in patients with dementia, and avoids serious drug side effects.
The first major study of the impact of humour therapy on mood, agitation, behavioural disturbances and social engagement in dementia patients found both short term and persisting decrease in agitation, said lead researcher, Dr Lee-Fay Low, a Research Fellow at UNSW`s School of Psychiatry.
The SMILE study across 36 Australian residential aged care facilities involved the recruitment and training of a staff member to act as a "LaughterBoss" who worked with a humour practitioner with comedic and improvisation skills.
The SMILE study found a 20 per cent reduction in agitation using humour therapy, an improvement comparable to the common use of anti-psychotic drugs.
"This shows humour therapy should be considered before medication for agitation, particularly taking into account its side effects," said Dr Low
In the SMILE study agitation decreased not only during the 12-week humour therapy program, but remained lower at 26-week follow up.
Happiness and positive behaviours rose over the 12 weeks of the program, however, dropped as soon as humour practitioner visits ceased.
The study will be presented this week at the National Dementia Research Forum.