With Parkinson’s, Sometimes Laughter Is the Best Medicine

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by Samantha Felder |

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Q: “What instructions do they not need to put on Parkinson’s medications?”

A: “Shake well before use.”

Q: “How do you greet a person with Parkinson’s?”

A: “What’s shakin’?”

Corny, I know, but you probably cracked at least a small smile. If so, my job here is done. Just kidding.

There is nothing better than a big belly laugh when you are feeling unwell. Why not use laughter to help Parkinson’s patients?

Laughter therapy does just that. How does it work? A group of people gather, usually in yoga studios, and focus on breathing and movement. They start by making sounds like laughter that eventually turn into the real thing.

If laughter therapy isn’t available in your area, don’t worry, you can do your own at home. Simply turn on a funny video or call a friend and tell each other jokes.

What does this have to do with Parkinson’s disease? A study by researchers at Northwestern University showed that comedy improvisation helped patients with their ability to focus, facilitated communication, and just made people feel better overall.

Parkinson’s patients tend to develop what is called Parkinson’s mask, which is the loss of facial expressions. Yet when we laugh, our face muscles tend to relax. Therefore, laughter can help to relieve Parkinson’s mask, since it is impossible to laugh and have no facial expression.

Actor Michael J. Fox, who arguably is the most famous Parkinson’s sufferer and advocate, uses humor to get his point across about having the disease. A few years ago, he appeared as comedian Larry David’s neighbor on the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

In the episode, Fox jokes about his neighbor believing Fox is “being symptomatic just to annoy him, a whole passive-aggressive thing.”

“He’s complaining because I’m shuffling and making noise upstairs,” Fox’s character observes. “It’s very funny.”

Fox used humor to show that Parkinson’s patients are just like everyone else, although people like David’s character may need to have that demonstrated to them.  

It does raise the question, when is it OK to make fun of someone with Parkinson’s or any other disease? Does it help or hurt someone to show them at their lowest points, or does the humor help them deal with the stigma of the disease? 

Humor is kind of a shock absorber in our lives. Those of us with Parkinson’s can take back some control of our lives by making fun of ourselves and the utter absurdity of the world we find ourselves in.

We can break the ice and make others feel more comfortable by telling a joke at our own expense. We can blame our clumsiness or brain farts on Parkinson’s and relieve the pressure we may feel as the one who is “different.” 

While laughter therapy and comedy improv can be helpful, it is just as important to laugh in your everyday life. My family and I decided years ago that we can either waste time crying about my condition or we can laugh as much as possible and enjoy life to the fullest.

So, here’s one more Parkinson’s joke:

Q: What’s the best thing about having Parkinson’s? 

A: Never having to buy another electric toothbrush.

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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