Funny moments can happen while you’re caring for an older adult. Of course, chronic illnesses and devastating diseases like Alzheimer’s are certainly no laughing matter. But even in the middle of the worst day, there’s still room for laughter.
Giving yourself permission to notice when funny things happen and encouraging your loved one to do the same eases tension and makes life more positive for both of you. We explain why it’s helpful to find humor in family caregiving, why you shouldn’t feel guilty about it, and we even share a couple funny stories from real caregivers.
Lightening the mood improves quality of life. The world doesn’t have to constantly be dark, gray and depressing even if you’re caring for an older adult with dementia or if their health is declining. It might sound counter-intuitive, but these are the times when a dose of humor is most needed.
Besides, being angry, miserable and tense won’t change a bad situation or make anyone’s life more pleasant. Trying to see the funny or positive side of things whenever possible lightens the mood and improves overall wellbeing.
Laughter helps people cope with difficult emotions. It turns out that humor is a very effective way of coping with the difficult emotions that come with caring for a family member and aging. In a research study, more than 75 percent of recurrent cancer patients and those facing terminal illness said that maintaining a sense of humor was very important. It was right up there with being pain-free.
That’s a pretty big endorsement.
Humor isn’t mean or disrespectful. One reason why caregivers might resist looking for humor is that they worry that they’ll seem mean or disrespectful. In truth, part of being a wonderful caregiver is to let yourself laugh and to encourage your loved one to laugh too.
After all, you’re not laughing at the person you love and care for ... you’re laughing at a funny, ridiculous or ironic situation. Best of all are the times when your older adult makes a joke or laughs even harder than you do.
Real stories about how people find humor in caregiving. We found some funny stories from caregivers that show what we mean about finding the humor in caregiving. Here are two we really enjoyed:
"Something cute. I came home yesterday from work and Mom came out to the kitchen to greet me. I said, 'Mom, you have on my sweat pants!' We each have a pair of soft, comfy pea green sweats. Hers are a size 14 and mine are a few sizes bigger! She said, 'I thought I had lost a lot of weight!' Then she pulls up her shirt to show me she had them pinned to her bra to keep them up! We had a good laugh!"
"I was kneeling beside Mom’s bed last night when she was saying her bedtime prayer. This night she prayed, 'Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray he takes me like an earthquake.' Instead of … my soul to take. I said, 'What?' Mom laughed and said, 'Well, I couldn’t remember the rest and ... well, it rhymed!'"