Recently, the halls of Blue Care in Bli Bli rang with peals of laughter from a usually quiet room. The staff paused their duties in surprise, curious to see what was causing resident, Victoria, such delight since she had been increasingly withdrawn and keeping to her room.
Inside, Victoria was not lonely. Laughter Care specialist, Juney, was at her bedside speaking conspiratorially after the breaking news that the Queen had passed away and bonding over their shared thoughts on Charles. Slowly the conversation drifted from the royal family as Victoria drew on moments from her own life as a young woman. Through music, the memories became stronger and Juney offered to play one of Victoria’s favourite songs. Meanwhile, astounded staff could not believe the noticeably improved mood and engagement.
Thanks to a $54,200 grant from the Eastern Star Foundation, Juney’s visit to Blue Care at Bli Bli is a weekly occurrence through The Humour Foundation’s Laughter Care program – a world-first combining the proven benefits of humour therapy with genuine human connection. Laughter Care specialists are professional performers trained in sensitivity and empathy to address the unique needs of aged care residents. The program was specifically designed in Australia to assist people living with dementia (52% of aged care residents) and those experiencing social isolation and withdrawal.
Juney is one of many Laughter Care specialists who use humour and reminiscence therapy as an artform to encourage residents to become actively involved. The Laughter Care specialists enter as friends paying a ‘special visit’ to people living with dementia, in what is now their home. They engage each resident using music, props, stories, improvisation, and reminiscence. Their carefully put together costumes speak to a period associated with a more active time in the resident’s life.
The SMILE Study was undertaken by The Humour Foundation to measure the impact the Laughter Care program had on aged care residents living with dementia. The core findings showed agitation levels of residents decreased to the same extent as antipsychotic drugs – but without the side effects. Humour therapy is also proven to have numerous physiological and psychological benefits, including relieving fear, stress, and pain, as well as positive effects on the cardiovascular, immune, and respiratory systems.
A Laughter Care specialist’s red nose is an invitation to play – enabling each resident to relax and interact on their own terms. This person-centred approach results in real relationship building and connection, in fact Victoria asked to see Juney again and Blue Care staff noted that this positive effect has been replicated throughout the facility with each unique connection formed.
“I could see a very clear change in her, she was smiling more and happy to see me” said Juney, after her second visit with Victoria.
A critical component of the Laughter Care program is the Laughter Boss workshop, which introduces the art of humour therapy to staff. The workshop training addresses the psycho-social needs of aged care residents and helps staff to integrate play and humour in their daily work – not only to build connection, develop better relationships, and foster wellbeing with residents, but also to increase the happiness and wellbeing of fellow colleagues.
The Bli Bli facility has completed their Laughter Boss workshop and is enjoying 12 months of weekly Laughter Care visits thanks to the Eastern star Foundation’s support. A second Blue Care facility in Queensland is scheduled to start the program shortly, also funded by the grant.
Eastern Star Foundation Chairman, Jonathan Nantes, said the Foundation supported evidence-based programs such as the Laughter Care program which are designed to help our aged to live well.
“We are pleased to have been able to support such a unique program which is evidence-based and helps aged care residents living with dementia or social isolation to practice choice, participate in their community and have a support network,” said Jonathan.
This year, the Eastern Star Foundation has awarded over $272,000 in grant funding to empower organisations who help to enhance the quality of life for our ageing communities. In addition to the grant to AWWQ this year, grants were also awarded to Gunther Village at Gayndah, The Humour Foundation, and Dementia Australia.