Humor Change & Dementia: Radical Shifts In Taste Of Humor Is A Sign Of Dementia?

Humor change and dementia are linked, according to a new study on early warning signs associated with the disease. Apparently, a radical change in a person’s sense of humor could be a “red flag” of dementia.

Researchers claim that as strange as this sounds, one’s taste in comedy could prove a valuable tool in helping to diagnose dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Web MD reports that humor change and dementia are somewhat linked. A research team at University College London (UCL) were interested in how sense of humor can change in people with Alzheimer’s, which is the leading cause of dementia. They also wanted to learn more about those with frontotemporal dementia, which occurs mostly in younger people. It’s when damage to part of the brain results in changes to personality, behavior, and understanding of language.

Frontotemporal dementia tend to see more behavioral and personality changes in the beginning, instead of memory problems. They differ from what healthy people and those with Alzheimer’s find hilarious. For example, people with severe humor changes will laugh at things others don’t find funny, like bad parking or a dog barking.

The team that studied humor change and dementia found that people who fell into the frontotemporal dementia category also tended to have a “sick” sense of humor; they might “laugh inappropriately at tragic events on the news or in their personal life. This did not happen in people with Alzheimer’s.”

Moreover, researchers also found that people afflicted with both frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s had a preference for slapstick, satirical, and absurdist humor. This especially rang true from friends and relatives who witnessed the changes in humor up to nine years before stronger dementia symptoms set in.

Dr. Camilla Clark led the research at UCL Dementia Research Centre and summed up what sense of humor means in essence.

“As sense of humor defines us and is used to build relationships with those around us, changes in what we find funny has impacts far beyond picking a new favorite TV show,” Clark said.

In the humor change and dementia study, Clark reveals that the research “highlighted the need to shift the emphasis from dementia being solely about memory loss.” Clark further explains that clinicians should also be aware of such symptoms as early signs of the disease. The doctor adds that even subtle differences in what people find funny can “help differentiate between the different diseases that cause dementia.”

Since humor has to do with so many aspects of brain function, this can be a leading factor in detecting dementia. Director of research at Alzheimer’s Research U.K., Dr. Simon Ridley, cites the latest humor change/dementia study as significant.

Clark explained what the research indicated.

“While memory loss is often the first thing that springs to mind when we hear the word dementia, this study highlights the importance of looking at the myriad different symptoms that impact on daily life and relationships,” Ridley says.

According to Medical News Today, Ridley does believe that this study requires more research. He says that people with all of the changes mentioned need to be followed for a longer period of time in order to pinpoint when a person’s change in personality or humor may be an indicator of dementia.

The humor change/dementia study conducted by Dr. Clark and her colleagues is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

[Photo Courtesy: U.S. National Institute on Aging via Commons Wikimedia/Cropped & Resized/CC BY-SA 2.0]