Scientists found nursing home residents who received regular visits from a humour therapist saw a 20 per cent drop in agitation levels compared to those receiving standard care.
Researchers from the university of New South Wales said laughter could provide a viable alternative to anti-psychotic drugs.
The SMILE study took place over three years involving 36 nursing home and 400 residents.
Humour therapist Jean-Paul Bell, who usually works as a ‘clown doctor’ for children, used a combination of games, joke and songs to encourage half of the elderly to laugh.
Dressed in a bright blue jacket with brass buttons and shoulder tabs, he would accompany his songs by playing the ukelele.
A member of staff was also trained to be a ‘laughter boss’ to ensure carers incorporated humour into their daily routines to maintain the cheery atmosphere.
The other 200 residents did not receive any extra doses of humour
The scientists found that in addition to seeming more content, the dementia patients involved in the study seemed less agitated by 20 per cent.
Lead researcher Lee-Fay Low at the University of New South Wale’s School of Psychiatry, said: ‘Twenty per cent sounds like a small effect but it’s about the same amount, the same effect as you would get if you gave them an antipsychotic medication – medication you would use to treat schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.’
The team added that the dementia patients weren’t the only ones who benefited from the study.
‘The staff were invigorated, they felt that their jobs were enhanced,’ said therapist Joanne Rodrigues.
‘They were part of something that they could see the real benefits (of).’
Dr Bell added: ‘The whole idea behind the Play-Up programme and what we’re doing at the Arts Health Institute (in Australia) is encouraging them to play more because we believe that they’ve got potential to keep playing right until you take your last breath.’
An estimated one million people will be living with dementia in Britain within 15 years, according to scientists at Oxford University.