NJ comedy company finds laughter is best medicine for Alzheimer’s patients
There’s nothing funny about Alzheimer’s but a professional comedian whose mother suffers with this debilitating disease has developed a unique treatment program based on comedy.
Stand-up comic Dani Klein Modisett is the founder and CEO of Laughter on Call, a company that has started offering one-on-one comedy care for those with Alzheimer’s, as well as laughter workshops and training for nursing home and assisted living staff and families in the Garden State.
“The idea came to me because my mother has Alzheimer’s,” said Modisett, who decided to hire a stand-up comic to interact with her mom after she became depressed, withdrawn and unresponsive.
The comic came for a visit and told Modisett’s mother: “I know you don’t want to talk to me. I know you’re thinking who is this schmuck who’s trying to talk to me?”
Modisett said, “There was something funny about the word schmuck and her New York accent and it was all very familiar to my mother and she started laughing. She thought that was really funny.”
The comic was hired to come several hours a week for “laughter sessions” and Modisett said the transformation in her mother was remarkable.
“She started eating again and started singing and was much more engaged in her community.”
After that, Modisett decided to start Laughter on Call.
New Jersey has more than 180,000 people struggling with Alzheimer’s, and 20% of New Jersey’s hospice population has Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
“The Mayo Clinic talks about how laughter activates and relieves your stress response, and stress is a big issue for everyone in the Alzheimer’s world," she said. “And it also can stimulate circulation; it adds muscle relaxation and brings more oxygen to the lungs. It has all of these positive physical benefits.”
She noted for those with Alzheimer’s, “it also helps minimize the feeling of isolation and loneliness and softens the fear. There’s a lot of anxiety and fear around the disease.”
Modisett said she has now started training staff at assisted living facilities, health care workers and families across the state to interact with Alzheimer’s patients using comedy.
So what does she teach?
“Just allowing yourself to be fully present, saying yes to wherever the person is. You can’t win an argument with someone with Alzheimer’s. Whatever they’re throwing at you, you just have to go with what they are saying."
She also teaches those working and living with Alzheimer’s patients the importance of “letting go of whatever the negative mood was and being available to just the next moment.”
“You know you can’t laugh and worry at the same time — it’s been proven. So the idea is to get people fully present and laughing and connected and feeling a sense of companionship.”
She recommends giving Alzheimer’s patients permission to be silly.
“Put on music, dance, laugh, make funny faces and it brings them to life. There’s no judgment around it and they don’t feel your fear or anxiety around there disease.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com