It’s not fun being sick or diagnosed with a chronic illness. It’s hard to think of it as funny, either. But does laughter have a place in medicine?
You may remember Patch Adams, the clowning doctor was made a household name by Robin Williams portrayal of him in the film by Adams’ namesake. What you may not know is how, despite his clowning nature, how dead serious he is about making a positive difference in people’s lives.
“You treat a disease, you win, you lose,” Adams said. “You treat a person, I guarantee you, you'll win, no matter what the outcome.”
And so it goes with laughter and medicine. It’s an emerging field with a lot of inconclusive data right now. But what is undeniable is the way laughter makes people feel. Does that count, medicinally? Not only does it count, it’s the point!
Medicine, by nature, is supposed to heal and help us feel better. Whether or not laughter is the best medicine, the fact that it is some kind of medicine is becoming more accepted.
Laughter is a social response that attracts others. In Parkinson’s, isolation is a killer, leading to a number of negative and sometimes prematurely fatal outcomes. In all this talk about laughter, let’s not joke about death - it’s coming for all of us. In fact, because it is coming for all of us, let’s go ahead and laugh at it - together.
Here’s a quick laundry of list of reported benefits - though many still need to be tested to prove their efficacy, you’re certainly not going to have any negative side effects:
Lowers stress hormones
Relaxes your muscles
Prevents heart disease
Eases anxiety and tension
Attracts others to us
Helps defuse conflict
Promotes group bonding
Have you ever seen a pill that promised all that? Me neither.
While watching a favorite comedy can certainly promote laughter and smiles, laughter is truly, at its root, a group activity - infectious in all the right ways. Not only is it great to watch, but you can get even more out of it by helping make others laugh.
Before you get a flop sweat rolling out of fear of standing alone on stage trying to crack jokes, understand that there’s an easier way to get laughs - you win by simply listening, saying “yes, and” and you can do it as a team. It’s called improvisation and it’s an art form that is growing in the Parkinson’s world. Some people even think it’s wizardry.
“I think the magic is that you kind of get in the car, and you’re late every time and it’s been a hard morning and you get in with this group and we’re laughing our heads off," Ingrid Friesen a woman with Parkinson’s said. "And forgetting [our challenges] and feeling like a normal person.”
Check out this article for more about Friesen and her group of improvisers in Southwest Florida.
So now that I’ve (hopefully) got you all excited, what’s next? Doing it. It takes you saying yes to make that happen. Feel free to reach out to me and I’ll get us organized up and running. If you just want to come see some professional, family friendly improv to see what it’s all about, let me know. I run a group called ComedySportz in town and I’d love to have you as a guest.
No matter what, know that life’s worth laughing at, about and most of all, with each other. I hope to hear from you soon.