1999 OPEN FORUM Abstracts
IS LAUGHTER THE BEST MEDICINE?
Marcia Roberts Graves CRTT,RCP, BS, Harris Methodist Southwest. Fort Worth, Texas
Question? Does a sense of humor help patients cope with stressful events in their lives? Can humor & laughter stimulate changes in the body that enhance health & facilitate recovery from illness? Facts: Excessive, unrelenting stress can lead to illness. Stress can weaken the immune system and predispose one to infection. Humor & laughter can mitigate the effects of stress and aid in the recovery from illness. Hypothesis: Humor will modify emotional response to stress. Humor will stimulate the immune system. Methods &
Results: In a carefully controlled study, the immune response of a group of pneumonia patients of similar age was examined. These patients were visited for 1 hour ´ 3 days by HaHaS, (Health & Healing at Southwest) Caring Clowns. This troop of merry-makers are Respiratory Therapists specially trained in therapeutic humor. The patients were entertained by costumed clown antics, puppetry, jokes, and funny videos. Blood pressure, heart rate, and blood samples were analyzed before during and after the comedy routines. A similar control group that did not experience the humorous intervention was used for comparison. One finding revealed that serum cortisol levels decreased significantly in the group experiencing the laughter. Cortisol levels are known to increase during the experience of stressful emotions, when the brain signals the adrenal gland to produce corticosteroids, which will increase blood sugar and decrease the immune response. Blood pressure decreased an avg. of 20% and heart rate also decreased an avg. of 20 bpm in the group that received therapeutic humor. Conclusion: These findings support the hypothesis that laughter keeps our immune system strong. The data also suggests that laughter can trigger physiological changes such as improved circulation and release of endorphins that make the patients feel less pain. Although these are measurable effects, it does not mean that telling jokes or watching comedies actually help cure illness. No one can make that claim. What is apparent is laughter produces these effects in the body and contributes, to some extent, to mental and physical well being.