Fight Memory Loss While Having Fun
Too much stress impacts our body and mind, contributing to a number of health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, more so as we age. Researchers have also shown that the stress hormone cortisol damages certain neurons in the brain and can also negatively affect memory and learning ability in the elderly. Most recently a study at Loma Linda University has developed a deeper understanding of cortisol’s relationship to memory, and whether humour and laughter—a well-known stress reliever—can help lessen the detrimental impacts of high levels of cortisol.
Gurinder Singh Bains et al. showed a 20-minute laugh-inducing video to a group of healthy elderly individuals and a group of elderly people diagnosed with diabetes. Later the groups were asked to complete a memory assessment that measured their learning, recall, and sight recognition. The control group consisted of elderly people who also completed the memory assessment, but were not shown a funny video. Cortisol concentrations for all the groups of participants were also recorded at the beginning and end of the experiment.
The findings of the study were presented on Sunday, April 27, at the Experimental Biology meeting. The results showed a significant decrease in cortisol concentrations among both groups who watched the video. Video-watchers also showed greater improvement in all areas of the memory assessment when compared to controls, with the diabetic group showing the most dramatic benefit in cortisol level changes and the healthy elderly group showing the most significant changes in memory test scores.
“Our research findings offer potential clinical and rehabilitative benefits that can be applied to wellness programs for the elderly,” Dr. Bains said. “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 humour therapies need to be implemented for these individuals.”
The study co-author and long-time psychoneuroimmunology humour researcher, Dr. Lee Berk, claims: “It’s simple, the less stress you have the better your memory. Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state. 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. These positive and beneficial neurochemical changes, in turn, make the immune system function better. There are even changes in brain wave activity towards what’s called the “gamma wave band frequency,” which also amp up memory and recall. So, indeed, laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life.”