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Change in humour may signal dementia

Change in humour may signal dementia
10th November 2015

Older people whose sense of humour suddenly changes may be suffering from the early stages of dementia, according to a new study.

Research carried out by doctors at University College London and published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that developing a warped sense of humour could be an early sign of the degenerative condition.

To reach this conclusion, the team questioned the close friends and family members of 48 dementia patients, asking them what kinds of events and jokes they tended to find funny both before and after their diagnosis.

For instance, they were asked whether or not their loved ones found slapstick comedies such as Mr Bean and Monty Python amusing, alongside some more inappropriate examples.

This led to the discovery that many of those suffering from dementia developed a darker sense of humour alongside their illness, meaning this could be used as an indicator for early signs of the disease.

Changes included laughing at tragic events in the news, as well as being more likely to laugh at slapstick than satirical humour, suggesting that alterations to the brain made understanding complex jokes more challenging.

More specifically, doctors believe it is the frontotemporal area of the brain that is the catalyst behind these changes in humour, as it is this part of the mind that affects personality, behaviour and inhibition. As dementia develops, this inhibition is often lost, leading to patients struggling with certain social situations and acceptable reactions.

Lead author of the study Dr Camilla Clark explained: "These were marked changes - completely inappropriate humour well beyond the realms of even distasteful humour. For example, one man laughed when his wife badly scalded herself."

Dr Simon Ridley of Alzheimer's Research UK added: "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."

Find out about dementia care and support services at Barchester care homes.