Humor and laughter in persons with cognitive impairment and their caregivers

J Holist Nurs. 2014 Mar;32(1):25-34. doi: 10.1177/0898010113500075. Epub 2013 Aug 7.


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to describe humor and laughter in persons with cognitive impairment (PWCI) and caregivers who were recalling a shared experience in a focus group.

Design: Twenty participants attended an Art Engagement Activity at the Andy Warhol Art Museum, which included a guided tour and an art project. All PWCI had medically diagnosed cognitive disorders and all caregiver participants did not. Four focus groups were conducted and transcripts of audio-recorded sessions were transferred to a qualitative software program.

Method: Words, phrases, and episodes of humor and laughter were used to construct codes, which were refined during group analysis using constant comparison.

Findings: Humor and laughter were present in all four focus groups. Emerging themes of humor included silliness, sarcasm, and commenting about hardships of dementia. Laughter was identified in segments with and without humor. Some PWCI were unable to follow social cues.

Conclusions: Humor and laughter played a role in creating a safe social environment. PWCI were able to engage in humor during social interactions, yet some had difficulty recognizing social cues. Further study may reveal roles of humor and laughter in adaptation to cognitive decline and holistic interventions for improved quality of life.

Keywords: cognitive impairment; older adults; other (humor).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / nursing*
  • Holistic Nursing / methods*
  • Humans
  • Laughter Therapy / nursing
  • Laughter*
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control
  • Wit and Humor as Topic*