My Views on Laughter Therapy for Parkinson's
Let me begin by saying it isn’t my intention to offend or poke fun at anyone living with Parkinson’s disease with the exception of myself. PD is a serious, gut wrenching disease. If you have no sense of humor, stop and read no further. If you are still reading, congratulations! You recognize that at the very least laughter can provide hope as a therapeutic tool. I personally have experienced times when PD, it seems, has gotten the best of me and I’ve had to wrestle with anxiety, apathy and even depression. As some of you may know these mental states often occur with many types of chronic illness.
Researchers tell us that because of the loss of dopamine cells in the brain and the way in which they interact with serotonin and melatonin that we experience episodes of feeling blue or down, complacent even overly anxious. Without getting too technical, PD as it progresses causes these symptoms to worsen over time. Now that you’re thoroughly depressed, how can I possibly think of laughing? What hope could you provide that laughter is even possible?
If you were overweight or out of shape you would exercise to improve your physical body. You would join a gym or work out at home, perhaps join a dance class or PD specific exercise program. Laughter Therapy is a work out for your brain and there are experts in the PD community that are available to help. Some of them are life coaches (like a personal trainer) while others work with groups of people to overcome the down times of living with Parkinson’s. I have personal experience with these professionals and their methods.
How it works
There are two types of laughter, spontaneous and deliberate. Both have similar properties that stimulate endorphins that produce a biochemical reaction and allow the “happy juices” to flow. There have been clinical trials that concluded a positive result as to the benefits of laughter affecting mental and physical health. Sources of this type of therapy is pretty much open ended. What makes you laugh? For some, watching stand-up comedy while others cartoons or comic strips. Maybe online videos of silly animals doing tricks tickles your funny bone. An example of deliberate laughter is to look at yourself in the mirror and literally laugh out loud. Not a half-hearted chuckle but a deep down belly laugh. Sounds silly? Try it, I dare you! The next time you meet someone, shake their hand and just start laughing. Most likely they will start laughing also and wonder what is so funny. As I write this, I am remembering many awkward moments where PD got in the way and thoroughly embarrassed myself to where all I could do was laugh. Most memories are those involving public places, restaurants, department stores, china shops.
Pity party over
Throughout my 22 years of living with Parkinson’s, I’ve had my share of pity parties. Fortunately, my wife holds me accountable and is known for limiting my sorrow by popping all my balloons. It’s never easy overcoming these feelings and it takes mental conditioning. Laughter therapy can help. My recommendation is take two generous doses as many times as necessary of whatever makes you laugh but use caution because laughter is definitely contagious.
I will close with this true story about myself. My wife and I were out running errands and it got to be near lunchtime. So we spotted a fast food restaurant. Being that it was the lunch hour, of course there were a lot of people inside and so I had to carry our lunch tray from the counter to a table way in the back. As I made my way through the dining room, balancing our meal and drinks, I suddenly felt a tremor come over me like a wave. Did I mention that I have PD? I tried to hurry and had only a few feet to go when it happened. I tremored and upended the whole tray. I was so embarrassed and humiliated, but in that moment I started to laugh and all I could think to say was, “Good thing they offer free refills!” Suddenly, the place erupted in laughter and even some patrons helped with the cleanup. Sometimes you just have to laugh. It really is the best medicine.
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