THE WASHINGTON POST – About a year after Dani Klein Modisett moved her mother from Manhattan to an Alzheimer’s care centre near her Los Angeles home in 2016, she noticed that her mom, then 84, was sad and withdrawn.
Muriel Klein, once the life of the party (even with her memory loss), was no longer talkative or interested in food. She kept her head down and slept a lot.
“I was really upset, thinking, ‘What have I done? Why did I take her from everything she loved in Manhattan?’” Modisett said.
During a dental exam one afternoon, Modisett, an author and former stand-up comedian, tearfully told her dentist about her mother, saying she wished she could hire a comedian for her.
“Why don’t you?” her dentist replied.
Modisett went home and made a few calls, and soon she had hired a stand-up comedian to visit her mom eight hours a week.
The first day, the comedian told Klein, “Some days, I don’t want to talk either, Muriel. When someone gets in my face, I think, ‘do I look like I want to talk?’”
Klein repeated the Yiddish word laughing. Then she repeated it again. She lit up.
“After that visit, my mom became more engaged and started eating and laughing again,” said Modisett, who has taught comedy classes at the University of California at Los Angeles. “She felt that she was being seen.”
In early 2017, realising that other seniors with memory loss could also benefit from some slapstick and one-liners, Modisett launched Laughter on Call, an organisation that pairs comedians with people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s. The group also puts on laughter workshops and live comedy shows at care centres. Families and care facilities work out a fee in advance with the comedians for their services – generally between USD25 and USD50 an hour for one-on-one visits – said Modisett, 56.
“Comedians can use the work, and people with memory loss can use the laughter,” she said.
With studies showing that laughter can improve health, ease stress and contribute to longevity, Modisett’s idea is starting to catch on.
Laughter on Call’s two dozen comedians mostly work in California, but some of the comedians also have clients in other states. Modisett said she has gotten inquiries from memory care centres across the country.