Keeping Your Sense of Humor

September 10, 2011

by Ellen Woodward Potts
Co-author, A Pocket Guide for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver

I remember one Christmas dinner when Maria was about 3 and wouldn’t eat her green beans, something that had to happen before I would allow her to eat her roll.  She was sitting between me and her Papa who had Alzheimer’s disease.  After many stern reminders on my part, Maria finally ate her green beans. When she turned to ask if she could have her roll, Papa grabbed her roll and ate it before she could register a protest.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw what he had done.  The horrified look on her face was hysterically funny.

Should I have felt guilty about laughing at this ridiculous scene?  No.

I once saw David Hyde Pierce, the star of “Frazier,” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  Leno asked Pierce about his work with the Alzheimer’s Association and told him about a comedian who had made fun of people with Alzheimer’s.  I will never forget David Hyde Pierce’s answer (my summary):  There are some people who have never been touched by Alzheimer’s disease and are so blissfully ignorant that they can make fun of it.  For them, I wish them to continue in their blissful ignorance.  Then, there are the rest of us who have been so profoundly changed by Alzheimer’s disease that we realize you have to laugh to keep you sanity.

This is one of the universal truths about any type of dementia:  Both the caregiver and the person with dementia have to keep their sense of humor to keep their sanity.

When Papa ate the children’s cake and ice cream at Julie’s birthday party; when we gave my grandfather wine upon the doctor’s recommendation and he said this was the only place he’d ever been where they only gave you vinegar to drink;  when Aunt Lola said she read the National Enquirer as a supplement to the Bible; when I introduced Danny as a “good Methodist boy” to my grandmother, a good Methodist herself who had not spoken in several months, and she said, “I like boys like that!” — In all these situations, we had a choice:  Should we laugh or cry?

You have a choice, too.  When you choose laughter, you choose respite for yourself as a caregiver, you choose sanity, you choose health, and perhaps, you choose connection with your loved one.  Even in the late stages, smiles and laughter are some the few things that successfully connect with someone with dementia.

Don’t feel guilty.  Life is still to be celebrated even in the midst of tragedy.  There will always be tears.  Make sure there will always be laughter, too!

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One Response to “Keeping Your Sense of Humor”

  1. Ellen,

    A delightful story and you are so right!

    Mom and I laughed so hard we cried on numerous occasions as we battled her Alzheimer’s.

    Mom hated having Alzheimer’s as much as I hated her having it– but laughter kept us sane. She had no problem finding humor in the silly moments Alzheimer’s produced.

    We laughed together–

    Thanks for the great story! I bet your daughter still remembers that time and probably laughs about now.


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