Rays of Sunlight: Using Humor with Seniors to Brighten Their Day


We’d all like to smile more, and if you have an older adult you care about, you’d probably like them to smile more, too. Unfortunately, older adults often have to deal with situations that aren’t conducive to smiles. It can be sobering to sit home alone all day, cope with chronic health conditions, and adapt to some of the difficult changes that aging can bring.1 Fortunately, there is much you can do to alleviate this by introducing humor into your loved one’s life.

Four ways to add laughter—often

If you’re looking to inject some light and laughter into you loved one’s day, try these quick, low-cost methods of sharing some humor with seniors.

Jokes. One of the quickest and easiest forms of humor to use with older adults is jokes. However, bear in mind that what one finds funny can vary wildly from person to person, and from generation to generation. Find subjects that cater to their tastes—perhaps you could grab a few joke books for inspiration, or find topics they’re passionate about or areas of interest they enjoy. Also, bear in mind that humor in past decades was much less aggressive than it is now. Your loved one may not find jokes about sex or violence, fake insults, or similar comedic attempts as funny as younger generations do.

Movies. Funny movies are a great way to get your aging loved one to smile more. The results may be even better if you choose to make it an outing, and see these films in a theater, where you can both enjoy the laughter of those around you. However, you can just as easily enjoy a movie at home—particularly if mobility issues would make going to the theater a struggle. But be careful about your selection. If your loved one doesn’t find current movies amusing, try ones they’ve enjoyed in the past, or featuring their favorite actors. Slapstick, farce, and situational comedies particularly resonate with previous generations. Visual gags may work well for those who have trouble with hearing or speech recognition. Likewise, witty dialogue is perfect for those who suffer from low vision. Asking them to share a classic they enjoyed when they were your age can also function as a shared bonding experience.

Teasing. Although no one likes to be made fun of, gentle teasing is a time-honored form of social engagement. Perhaps your loved one even does it with you! Light joking about favorite hobbies or endearing idiosyncrasies can often bring a smile, and some older adults are even okay with light teasing about how their bodies aren’t as fit as they used to be. But to others, these are painful reminders of lost abilities, and should be avoided. You know your loved one best, so use that knowledge to determine if these jests are appropriate. Keep in mind that your loved one may be okay with poking fun at the aging process in general, just not how they’re aging. Until you’re well acquainted with how they feel on the matter, use your judgment and err on the side of caution before you start firing off quips.

Kids. You’re probably familiar with the expression, “Kids say the darnedest things!” Well, they often do the darnedest things, too—unintentionally acting in hilarious ways (at least to the adults around them). If your loved one has any grandchildren, great-nieces or nephews, or even younger friends with children, try gathering them up for an afternoon. Have a picnic, blow bubbles, or just help the toddler play with their toys. Children laugh more than 300 times a day, while adults laugh less than twenty. It’s not hard to imagine some of that laughter rubbing off on your loved one the more time you spend with kids.

The best accessory is a smile

An elderly smile is a thing of beauty, and should be treated accordingly! There are fewer rewards greater than knowing you made someone’s life happier and more meaningful. Find humor that resonates with your older loved one, and incorporate it into your daily routine with them. The best part is, the more they smile, the more likely those smiles are to spread—to you, and to everyone else your loved one interacts with.2

If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.


Show 2 footnotes

  1. “Effects of Aging,” September, 2009, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00191
  2. “Is Smiling Contagious?” https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa14/2014/10/21/is-smiling-contagious/
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