Saturday, January 29, 2011

Can Humor about Dementia be Healthy?

A primary goal of our book is to challenge the destructive stereotypes about Alzheimer's disease and other forms of progressive memory loss that create fear, anxiety and stigma. So what, then, are we to make of the humor, often uncomfortable and slightly mean-spirited, about dementia (of the "you get to meet so many new people!" type) born of that fear? Often I wince. And yet making fun of the things we fear in order to put them into proper perspective is a human coping mechanism that begins in early childhood - Bram Stoker's fearsome Count Dracula becomes The Count on Sesame Street - and continues throughout our entire lives.

This raises the interesting question of whether aging Baby Boomers, living with ongoing anxiety over the possibility that they, or those they love, will journey into dementia, can find healthy ways to give honest expression to that anxiety through humor. This song by Pam Peterson elicited an initial wince from me, but because it is clever and very funny I watched all of it. Now I find myself thinking that this may be the sort of healthy, honest "name the anxiety but do not allow yourself to be ruled by it" humor that can ultimately reduce stigma and help us live what Joseph de Rivera (whose work we explore extensively in the book) terms "fear subordinated to love." It can also serve to reinforce the truth that changes in memory affect all persons as they age, perhaps making us less likely to embrace the exaggerated dichotomy that too often isolates those contending with dementia. Watch this video and let me know what you think.

2 comments:

  1. I didn't take her song as a shot on folks experiencing true dementia, but more of a not so subtle reminder to all of us Boomers that already occasionally experience what an older friend of mine refers to as "sometimers" disease....sometimes I just forget stuff. I really do rely on humor to help me cope with a variety of life's challenges. I give it a thumbs up.

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