“Laughter is the best medicine” may be a motto many live their lives by, but a new study found that laughter may actually be the best medicine for age-related memory loss. A new study found that humor may reduce brain damage caused by the “stress hormone” cortisol, which in turn, improves memory. Previous research has found that stress does worsen memory and learning ability in older adults, so the research team from Loma Linda University in California wanted to determine how humor may reduce the stress and the brain damage done by it.
For the study, a team of researchers analyzed three groups of elderly individuals: one group of elderly people with diabetes, one healthy group who watched a comical 20 minute video, and one group of elderly people who did not watch the video. All three groups took a memory test, the two groups after the video. Researchers also measured cortisol levels before and after the test.
The results showed that both groups who watched the video had reduced levels of cortisol, and showed greater improvement in memory recall, learning ability and sight recognition, compared to those who did not watch the video. The diabetic group demonstrated the greatest improvement in both cortisol levels and memory test.
“Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state,” says study co-author Dr. Lee Burk, suggesting that the less stressed a person is, the better their memory performance will be. “The act of laughter – or simply enjoying some humor – increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward.”
Study leader Dr. Gurinder Singh Bains says the findings can offer benefits to wellness programs for elderly persons. “The cognitive components – learning ability and delayed recall – become more challenging as we age and are essential to older adults for an improved quality of life: mind, body and spirit. Although older adults have age-related memory deficits, complimentary, enjoyable and beneficial humor therapies need to be implemented for these individuals.”