A crew of comedians in California is proving yet again that laughter is the best medicine.
Laughter on Call connects comedians to patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s, aimed at brightening their days and improving their outlook.
“Comedians can use the work and people with memory loss can use the laughter,” said Dani Modisett, an author and former stand-up comedian who founded the organization in 2017.
“Comedians in particular have the charisma, courage and fearlessness to engage someone who might be feeling confused, isolated or lonely,” she said.
Laughter on Call employs comedians by the hour to visit people with Alzheimer’s or dementia after compiling detailed information from family, friends and caregivers to make the right match.
Modisett started the group after moving her mother to an Alzheimer’s care center near her home in Los Angeles, where her once lively and animated mother grew sad and withdrawn.
Thinking perhaps a stand-up comedian might help, Modisett hired a comic to visit her mother.
After just one visit, “my mom became more engaged and started eating and laughing again,” said Modisett, who has taught comedy at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Along with one-on-one visits, Laughter on Call hosts comedy shows, group sessions and interactive storytelling at senior communities and facilities and conducts laughter workshops for caregiving family and staff.
Stand-up comedian Michael Piper-Younie, who visits Modisett’s mother Muriel Klein twice a week, said they both derive satisfaction and joy from the visits.
While he tells funny stories or makes silly faces or the two might dance, she never lets go of his hand, he said.
“Spending time with Muriel genuinely makes me feel better about my own day-to-day,” he said. “When she sees me, the excitement in her face is palpable. She beams a huge smile and reaches out her hand to mine.
“When I get her to a full belly laugh, it really makes my heart sing.”
Patients with memory loss are less anxious and more focused after visits from Laughter on Call, said Juliana Rocha, who oversees resident engagement at an Alzheimer’s care center in Los Angeles.
“They’re smiling, they’re engaging,” she said. “That kind of connection helps to build brain cells and helps to slow the progression of dementia.”
The physical act of laughing has been linked to increased pain tolerance, improved oxygen supply to the heart, lungs and muscles and even strengthened immune systems.
Laughter on Call’s cost of a single one-on-one session starts at $125 an hour but drops as low as $25 to $50 an hour depending on the number of visits.
Even its telephone number is designed to elicit a smile: +1-805-254-HAHA.