A Little Laughter Could Improve Seniors’ Memory

By Carl Engelking | April 28, 2014 12:40 pm

elderly laughing

English comedian Sir Norman Wisdom once joked that three things happen as you get older: First, you lose your memory; then, well, Sir Norman couldn’t remember the other two. All jokes aside, a new study shows that getting older should be a laughing matter.

A small study conducted by researchers at Loma Linda University in California suggests that laughter can improve short-term memory in older adults. Elderly test subjects who watched a 20-minute funny video performed better on all measures of a memory test immediately following the experiment and had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to negatively impact neurons in the brain.

Researchers say their findings could be applied to rehabilitative and wellness programs for the elderly.

Improving Memory a Laugh at a Time

To test the link between humor and memory, researchers gathered a group of 20 healthy individuals who were between 66 and 72 years old. One group, the humor group, watched a funny video without distractions. The control group simply sat calmly in a room without video. Researchers administered a standardized memory assessment after the test period, and took saliva samples — to measure cortisol levels — before and after the experiment.

Results showed that learning ability and memory recall increased by roughly 40 percent in the humor group, but only increased about 20 percent for the control group. Salivary cortisol levels also decreased with the humor group, but remained unchanged in the control group.

Researchers told ABC News that laughter may improve immune system function in addition to changing brain wave activity toward a “gamma frequency,” which amps up memory and recall. The findings were presented Sunday at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.

Much To Learn

Although the findings seem to show laughter is potent medicine, the sample size only included 20 individuals, which is very small.

However, next time you forget to pick up milk from the grocery store (which was the reason you went in the first place), it won’t hurt to just laugh it off.


Photo credit: Aletia/Shutterstock

  • u14071852

    The human body’s ability to generate natural remedies is really quite incredible. It would be interesting to see if other, larger studies are published on the topic; such natural remedies seem often to be overlooked.

    Other studies have already shown that laughter has additional benefits to those listed above. For example, endorphins released during laughter have been proven to relieve pain to an extent. Political journalist Norman Cousins, for example, was a notable advocate of laughter as a means of physical pain reduction. Cousins (1979) reported that “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep”.

    Furthermore, laughter has been associated with improved blood vessel functioning. Researchers from the University of Maryland Medical Centre found that laughter causes the endothelium of blood vessels to dilate, whilst also reducing platelet aggregation as well as inflammation (Vlachopoulos et al, 2009) . All these effects help increase blood flow, helping blood vessels to function optimally.

    The human body is really quite an amazing thing!

    Cousins, Norman. (1979). Anatomy of an illness as perceived by the patient : reflections on healing and regeneration. New York : Norton.

    Vlachopoulos C, Xaplanteris P, Alexopoulos N, Aznaouridis K, Vasiliadou C, Baou K, Stefanadi E, Stefanadis C. (2009). Divergent effects of laughter and mental stress on arterial stiffness and central hemodynamics. Psychosom Med, 71(4): 446-53. doi: PMID 19251872

    • NerinaPistorius

      I agree on this topic. I think it will be quite interesting to see further results on this topic of laughter. And maybe a demonstrated video can work as well. We hear a lot of things about how good laughing is etc. But I think we need to test it ourselves before we give a reasonable answer.

  • Jim Cannell

    Proverbs 17:22
    A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

    This is the “Original” research paper.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar