Hospitals Prescribed Humor to Patients
Where can you find a clown school, laugh therapy, and prescribed
humor? The hospital, of course! "The old saying that
'laughter is the best medicine' definitely appears to be true when it
comes to protecting your heart," says Michael Miller, M.D., F.A.C.C.,
director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of
Maryland Medical Center. Treating patients with a dose of humor has
begun to take a strong foothold at hospitals as they set up humor
programs and provide their patients with funny books, movies and live
Around with Seniors
Adapted from stories
was in her 90s, blind, and deaf when she fell in her home and fractured
her hip. It was three days before Meals on Wheels found her. After
surgery she was violent, combative, and labeled “confused.” I was
working in Medicare Home Health Services and got a call from Stella’s
neighbor who needed some advice. Stella’s neighbor had heard of the
humor I had done with patients and asked, “Do you think humor will help
this patient?” I said, “I don’t know.” I was really just doing humor to
have some fun with the home health care patients I visited.
husband had gotten a new video camera and wanted to videotape
everything. He came with me on my first visit to Stella’s to video tape
my session with her. We had an audio tape player with headphones that
Stella put on over her hearing aids. I played a Burns and Allen comedy
tape to see what her reaction would be to it. What happened was nothing
short of a miracle, which can be witnessed on the videotape. At first,
she is thrashing about, and then she transformed to laughter as she
listened to the comedy. She even started to repeat the jokes like she
was telling them. It turned out that she was not confused, but sensory
deprived like Helen Keller.
time, the therapeutic use of humor served as a tool to bridge the
exclusion she found with the loss of sensory perceptions. By helping to
restore her sense of humor, an improved attitude and mental acuity were
quickly achieved. Stella’s doctor was amazed at the overall improvement
in her physical health as well. She even started to bring new funny
stories to his office each visit. He shook his head saying, “With her
sense of humor, she might outlive me!”
my clown rounds, I saw a large assembly of people around a bed occupied
by an elderly gentleman. I was informed: "Grandpa is 109 years old and
he hasn't spoken in years." His daughter, grandchildren, and
great-grandchildren were present.
I entered the room in my clown costume, the man sat straight up in his
bed and hollered: "Look, my clown is here!" He grabbed my hand and
shook it. I even got a hug!
thirty-something granddaughter reacted with a gasp, "I've never heard
Grandpa's voice before." They heard their grandpa speak, some of them
for the very first time, all due to a visit from a clown.
Not convinced? Click
here to test the before and after effects of your own laughter.
Studies support the physiological changes that occur when humor is part
of a treatment regimen. Patient stories continue to surface about how
therapeutic humor positively changed the patient’s attitude and
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine performed
a study in 2005 which showed laughter-provoking movies to a group of
people to gauge the effect of emotions on cardiovascular
health. The results showed that laughter is linked to the
healthy function of blood vessels. Laughter appears to cause the tissue
that forms the inner lining of blood vessels, to dilate or expand in
order to increase blood flow. Additional research from other major
medical schools indicates that laughter increases muscle flexion,
lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, and boosts immune
function. This is accomplished by raising levels of
infection-fighting T-cells and disease-fighting proteins and B-cells,
which produce disease-destroying antibodies, and by triggering the
release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain killer (www.tampabaymedicalnews.com).
When a mentally stressful movie was shown to the same group of people
in the study, their blood vessel lining developed a potentially
unhealthy response called vasoconstriction, reducing blood flow. This
finding confirmed previous studies, which suggested there is a link
between mental stress and the narrowing of blood vessels.
"This can cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and
cholesterol build-up in the coronary arteries and ultimately to a heart
attack," says Dr. Miller, who is also an associate professor of
medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
offer treatment through comedy
Because research supports humor as medicine, hospitals have taken the
initiative to ramp up the mind-and-body-connection style of treatment
by helping patients find ways to laugh. More than 100 hospitals in the
U.S. offer access to comedy to help reduce patient fear and anxiety
(Morreall, 2008). Some hospitals even offer clown schools on site to
train interested volunteers.
To treat the funny bone in their patients, Rochester General Hospital
offers a Humor Therapy program, which includes:
A humor channel –
Patients, families, and staff can view classic comedies on the hospital
closed circuit television around the clock. They can watch funny TV
programs to lift their spirits at any time.
humor library – Humorous books are available to patients
and their families at the hospital library and on the traveling library
cart. Volunteers or clowns bring the cart to each patient’s room so the
patient can select a funny book to read.
rounds – Specially trained volunteer clowns visit
inpatient and outpatient units many times a week. They focus on raising
the spirits of the patients, but doctors and nurses also report feeling
better after a visit from the clowns. See some clowns at hard at work
and play at the Miami Children’s Hospital in this video.
education – Volunteers can sign up to attend “Clownology”
classes at some hospitals. The classes teach them the special art of
being a hospital clown. Additionally, all hospital staff
attend educational sessions and conferences on the value of therapeutic
humor to improve their interactions with patients.
According to Rochester General Hospital, all four of these outreach
In another example, the Comedy Connection at the Morton Plant Mease
Health Care in Clearwater, Florida has been supplying and distributing
hospital hilarity since 1989. The Comedy Connection oversees programs
such as comedy carts, clown alley, and outreach programs to ensure that
patients have an opportunity to laugh on a regular basis. See
how they do it in this video.
- Provide a mirthful
- Enhance the positive and
caring healthcare experience.
- Reduce stress, decrease
anxiety, and relieve fear.
- Provide a powerful
- Complement medical care and
treatment with a smile.
- Enhance communication.
– an antidote to stress
Just as laughter can help people heal and feel better, the opposite can
happen when faced with stressful situations. The human body will take
on the stress of changes, challenges, and obstacles from daily living.
The results can actually be physical pain, a weakened immune system, a
compromised diet, and a decrease in activity level, to name some.
Therefore, it can be extremely beneficial to introduce comedy into a
daily routine because approaching life with humor produces physical,
mental, and social benefits for the human body (www.familydoctor.org):
Benefits of Laughter
Benefits of Laughter
||Social Benefits of Laughter
- Improves cardiovascular
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces pain
- Enhances immune system
- Decreases stress
- Increases muscle
- Improves brain
- Releases pent-up
feelings of anger and
- Enhances creativity
- Makes us
- Changes behavior
ability to affiliate or connect with others
Laughter appears to do much more than provide a coping mechanism to
face major illness. It can provide an aerobic workout. Laughing 100
times is equal in caloric expenditure to ten minutes on a rowing
machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike (Journal
of Women’s Health, 2004).
The Association for
Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH) defines therapeutic
humor as, “Any intervention that promotes health and wellness by
stimulating a playful discovery, expression, or appreciation of the
absurdity or incongruity of life’s situations. This intervention may
enhance health or be used as a complementary treatment of illness to
facilitate healing or coping, whether physical, emotional, cognitive,
social, or spiritual.” The AATH is an international community of
professionals who incorporate humor into their daily lives and provide
evidence-based information about current research and practical
applications of humor.
To find out more about humor therapy, watch this video documentary:
“In Search of…Laugh Therapy” – A video series hosted by
Leonard Nemoy on Laughter
is more fun with laughter
These ads were found in the Senior Personal postings in Florida and
Arizona newspapers and show us just what it means to express some humor
while aging (www.aath.org).
FOXY LADY – Sexy, fashion-conscious,
blue-haired beauty, 80's, slim, 5'4" (used to be 5'6"), searching for
sharp-looking, sharp-dressing companion. Matching white shoes and belt
– Recent widow who has just buried fourth hus¬band looking for someone
to round out a six-unit plot.
This senior woman gives aging a good chuckle and does it in front of a
room full of people. Click
here to watch how she does it
It may seem difficult to discover the humor in your situation, but
looking to outside sources such as comedy movies, books, television
shows, or even watching kids play on a playground can bring some quick
laughter. Scientific evidence continues to show that regular doses of
humor enhance a person’s health. Take charge of finding the humor in
your own life or in situations happening around you can make life more
enjoyable and can truly make a difference in your health.