Caregivers: Finding the Funny in Dementia

by Nancy Wurtzel on January 31, 2013

Alzheimer’s disease is the pits.  Yet, even in the midst of all the pain, frustration and anger, there is sometimes the funny.

Oh sure, the humor isn’t the hilarious, laugh-out-loud kind, but it certainly can make you smile or relieve the mundane that is so much of a caregiver’s world.

It’s okay to find the funny in your situation.

Laughter isn’t a sign of distain or disrespect for the person you are caring for, but rather it’s a coping mechanism that can help you get through difficult days.  The funny isn’t the person, it’s the bizarre twists and turns that are part of this awful disease.  So, go ahead, find the dementia funny and embrace it.  The laugher will help, even if ever so slightly.

I know this firsthand.  Funny things happen all the time with my own mother who is in the moderately severe stage of Alzheimer’s.  Take a recent incident that left my sister and me — as well as the staff of my mom’s assisted living center — chuckling.

Although we moved her months ago, Mom has been experiencing ongoing adjustment issues.  She needed a morning task that would get her out of her unit and mixing with people.  Mom loves to help, so  the resident nurse came up with the idea that Mom could assist with the laundry.

Perfect!  Mom had always loved doing laundry — especially folding clothes just out of a warm dryer.

My sister provided a big stack of towels and a new laundry basket.  Then, three or four mornings a week one of the staff requested mom come to the laundry room to help fold towels — the same basket of towels every time.

All went well for a few weeks.  Mom was extremely proud of her folding accomplishments and the fact that the staff made a big deal over her.  I’d say everyone was feeling a bit smug because we had devised a great way to get Mom involved.  Mission accomplished!

Then one day, the jig was up.

Although she finds it very hard to convey her thoughts, that morning Mom took one look at the basket  and proclaimed in a loud, exasperated voice, “Oh, for goodness sake, I just folded those same towels yesterday!”  And with that, she turned on her heals, grabbed her walker and returned to her room in a huff.

It was the longest sentence Mom had uttered in ages.

Mom’s outburst did indeed give us all a chuckle.  We’d assumed she was way beyond seeing through our little ruse. However, the joke was on us.

When I asked her about it later, Mom just waved her hand and rolled her eyes.  She had the last laugh.

This post was written by Nancy Wurtzel.  It appeared originally in The Alzheimer’s Reading Room.

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1 Judy March 14, 2013 at 9:39 am

The other day Mom was doing her usual, “Why does God leave me here. I’m no good to anyone. I just want to die. Why doesn’t he take me?” Usually I just say “I don’t know Mom”, but that day I remembered they said to divert the conversation or enter their reality and I thought I’d divert the conversation. So I made some kind of subject change sentence which I thought might get her mind off her situation, and instead of following my lead, she laughed and said, “So you think that will answer my question of why?” For once, she didn’t forget the previous sentence, and caught me trying to lead her elsewhere. I thought it was a good sign because some days its the same sentence over and over. for instance, where is my hearing aid? here in my purse mom, it’s broken. Let me try it. You just did. Let me try it again. she puts it on, its still broken, back in my purse it goes and she says, where is my hearing aide, in my purse Mom, let me try it, and over and over it spins.

2 Sahara February 11, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I am so glad I found your blog!! I was a two time dementia caregiver. I married while caring for my grandpa and divorced while caring for my grandma! You and I can surely relate 😉
The above story resonates too because sometimes my grandma said perfectly logical statements like she was coming out of a mist. Only to be lost in it again.
I’m glad you found the humor. Laughter is medicine.

3 Nancy Wurtzel February 11, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Thank YOU for coming to read and for your nice comment. Please come back again — and tell your friends!

4 Ann Wilmer February 9, 2013 at 11:38 am

If we couldn’t laugh, Alzheimer’s would be an worse sentence than it is. My mother didn’t always know who I was but she felt safe with me so she would frequently tell me about her daughter, “Ann.” One day she asked, “where’s Ann?” Of course I said, “right here.” But she insisted it was the “other” Ann she was asking about. “What other Ann?” I asked. “Oh you know,” she said, “that big ass girl who helps you around the house.” Well, I did gain weight when I became housebound with her so I turned and displayed my posterior saying “Dad always said you couldn’t hide it.” We both laughed until she cried. I don’t know if she realized the two Ann’s were one in the same of if she just remembered my Dad’s sense of humor but I still tell that story to others who have met the Bib A face-to-face and it never fails to bring on laughter!

By the way, I have since lost the extra 20 pounds I packed on cooking for a failing appetite and sitting where I could be seen. LOL!

5 Nancy Wurtzel February 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Oh boy, did you make me laugh!! I’ve gained that 20 pounds, too (and a bit more). Sometimes, food is my only treat for the day…not a good way to live. Thank you for coming to read and for sharing…please come back and tell your friends!

6 Susan February 6, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Hi Nancy, there are so many times a caregiver sheds tears, that chuckles are welcome at any time.
Back in the 1990s my grandma was in a long-term care facility with dementia. Always a meek person, her disease made her feisty. One evening someone came into her room. Grandma could see a figure in the dark but didn’t know who it was. So she barked, “WHO ARE YOU!?” It was the priest from her church!

7 Susan Harjehausen February 2, 2013 at 1:21 am

Hi Nancy,

That is such a cute story. I lost my Mom in 2005 after suffering with Alzheimers for 15 years. I had similiar moments with her that brought a smile to my face.

Blessings to you, Nancy


8 Nancy Wurtzel February 2, 2013 at 10:01 am

Hey Susan,
Many thanks for your comment. Nancy

9 Christine M. Valentin February 1, 2013 at 7:53 am

Hi Nancy,

That was a cute and funny story. Finding the funny can be the silver lining to a dark cloud and is often times needed in order to brighten our spirits. Thanks for making me chuckle.

Have a good day,

10 Nancy Wurtzel February 1, 2013 at 8:18 am

Christine — many thanks for coming to read and for the nice comment. Please come back again and tell your friends!

11 Amy January 31, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Oh, how funny! My mother also liked folding towels (and her home also has a basket of baby clothes that many of the women like to fold), but she’d get mad because they didn’t pay her. She was working, after all. Where was the money??

12 Nancy Wurtzel January 31, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Yes, I can totally relate to the money thing — when my mom could talk more coherently, money was a BIG issue!

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