Alzheimer’s Awareness

What’s Not So Funny About Alzheimer’s Disease?

Humor is important part of healing process

By Karyn Buxman

When I was 12 years old, my mom quit nursing to take up flying. She went on to be a flight instructor, flew charter, flew air ambulance, and by the time I was sixteen she’d mastered acrobatics. The first time she flew me upside down in an airplane I truly believed she was the bravest woman I’d ever met.

And then the day came when she asked me how to tell the difference between my dad and “that other guy in the house” who looked just like him. As my family and I assisted her on her journey through Alzheimer’s she confirmed my beliefs. She really was the bravest woman I’ve ever met.

At one point she said, “I’m glad I’ve learned about humor. I’m not laughing all the time, but I’m not crying all the time.” Humor became an important part of the healing process. It didn’t cure her Alzheimer’s. It probably didn’t increase the number of her days. But it did help improve the quality of her days.

What’s Not So Funny About Alzheimer’s Disease? 

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that there’s an awful lot that’s not funny about Alzheimer’s disease. According to the latest numbers from the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5.2 million people have this devastating condition. Two-thirds of these people are women. If you’re a woman over the age of 60, your chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease is 1 in 6. 

Alzheimer’s kills almost 122,000 people a year (that is the equivalent of FIVE 747s crashing every week…). Approximately 5 million Americans may have mild cognitive impairment due to early stages of Alzheimer’s and not even know it! Alzheimer’s doesn’t just impact the person diagnosed. Spouses, families, and caregivers are struggling to contain America’s Alzheimer’s disease epidemic. 

More than 60% of all Alzheimer’s caregivers are women. A woman is 2.5 times more likely to become a caregiver than a man — yet taking on caregiving duties doesn’t remove all the other responsibilities women have, which often include a full-time job; raising children; maintaining healthy relationships with their romantic partner, friends, and community; providing most of the housework; and more. 

These are just the big numbers. The small numbers — the impact that Alzheimer’s disease can have on one family — are just as jaw dropping. When a parent, spouse or other loved one develops Alzheimer’s disease there’s often a dramatic financial impact on the family’s life. Stories of job loss are extremely common. Not all employers are understanding when someone must leave the workplace abruptly when Mom’s wandered off. 

The numbers are overwhelming, and the situation seems hopeless. But there is hope. Scientists, researchers, and thousands of clinicians are working every day to discover a way to cure this devastating disease. Communities of caregivers have come together to educate, empower, and support each other. We all have some wisdom to share in the face of this national challenge. The disease isn’t funny. But there are many things in the world that are, and knowing about them is going to make life a little easier for everyone. 

Whether you’re a caregiver, a family member or friend, here are 5 ways to harness humor to better deal with Alzheimer’s and dementia:

  1. Reminisce about funny memories: In dementia, short-term memory is lost first and then longer-term memories. While your mom or grandmother can’t remember what day it is, they can most likely recall in detail the time that your dad dropped the Thanksgiving turkey on the floor, or when Aunt Martha tried to blow out the candles on her cake and blew her teeth out instead. The shared laughter will make you both feel better.
  2. Tap into sitcoms and radio shows they’ll remember: While your loved one may not relate to “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” chances are pretty good that they will resonate with “I Love Lucy” or “The Andy Griffith Show.” If they have enough capacity to watch television, comedies from their early years may still tickle their funny bone. Watching together can provide great opportunities to still bond.
  3. Connect with other caregivers: Many Alzheimer’s disease caregivers find great value in chatting with other people who are in the same situation. (That’s how I learned about taking my mom for a drive when she wanted to go home—but she already was home.) A great resource you should know about is the Caregivers Forums on the Alzheimer’s Association website: In addition to sharing caregiving tips and strategies, there’s a lot of therapeutic humor shared between site members that really makes coping that much easier. 
  4. Turn up the music: Long after persons with Alzheimer’s lose their ability to communicate, many are still able to enjoy music and even sing. Whether it’s pulling up a playlist or just belting out a favorite song from their youth, music is a great way to share fun time together.
  5. Make eye contact with a simple smile: Smiling and laughing are two of our most early means of communication and they are among the last to be lost. When having a conversation is no longer an option, making direct eye contact and smiling, even gently chuckling, will trigger mirror neurons in the brain and spark a smile or laugh in return.

June is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Take this opportunity to help your clients, your friends, and loved ones to tap into the numerous helpful resources available to them — most especially humor!

Karyn Buxman, CSP, CPAE, is CEO and founder of She is a TEDx speaker, successful author, and neuro humorist (she lives at the intersection of humor and the brain.) A pioneer in the emerging science of applied humor, Karyn helps high performers expand their influence, strengthen their relationships, and boost their resilience. She’s one of 265 people (and only 58 women) in the world to be inducted into the National Speakers Association’s Speaker Hall of Fame. Karyn is serious about humor!  


Karyn was a presenter at the recent 2023 Ellevate Foundation’s Women’s Leadership Summit.

They’ve just announced the date for 2024:
March 25-27.
More soon at: