Altered sense of humor in dementia

J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;49(1):111-9. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150413.


Sense of humor is potentially relevant to social functioning in dementias, but has been little studied in these diseases. We designed a semi-structured informant questionnaire to assess humor behavior and preferences in patients with behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD; n = 15), semantic dementia (SD; n = 7), progressive nonfluent aphasia (PNFA; n = 10), and Alzheimer's disease (AD; n = 16) versus healthy age-matched individuals (n = 21). Altered (including frankly inappropriate) humor responses were significantly more frequent in bvFTD and SD (all patients) than PNFA or AD (around 40% of patients). All patient groups liked satirical and absurdist comedy significantly less than did healthy controls. This pattern was reported premorbidly for satirical comedy in bvFTD, PNFA, and AD. Liking for slapstick comedy did not differ between groups. Altered sense of humor is particularly salient in bvFTD and SD, but also frequent in AD and PNFA. Humor may be a sensitive probe of social cognitive impairment in dementia, with diagnostic, biomarker and social implications.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; comedy; dementia; frontotemporal dementia; humor; progressive aphasia; semantic dementia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Primary Progressive Nonfluent Aphasia / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Surveys and Questionnaires