Changes in sense of humor may suggest the onset of dementia, a recent study conducted by researchers at University College London has shown.
The findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, were based on questionnaires applied to families of 48 individuals affected by dementia, as well as to friends of these patients who had known them for over 15 years before the onset of the brain degenerative disorder.
A large number of respondents claimed that they had witnessed an obvious change in their loved ones’ preferences for comedy and humor, years before dementia signs became more apparent.
Individuals started to prefer slapstick comedy, characterized by farcical situations, crude practical jokes and emphasis on physical action (collisions, chases and violence). They were much more likely to prefer sketches featuring the Three Stooges and Mr. Bean or shows like MTV’s Jackass.
On the other hand, their liking for other genres of comedy, such as satirical , ironic or absurdist varieties, was greatly reduced, in comparison with 21 healthy patients who were also included in the trial.
Their humor also became “inappropriate and graphic”, as they frequently laughed without reason, when watching news about natural disasters or other horrific events. They also showed dark humor, finding it funny to witness people getting hurt or experiencing trouble.
One respondent revealed that her relative had laughed without remorse after seeing her getting accidentally scalded, while another one recalled that her family member had found it hilarious that she was struggling to breathe due to asthma.
Overall, those who eventually became affected by neurodegeneration were much more prone to laughing even in the most unlikely, unfunniest scenarios, and often admitted that they couldn’t actually tell why they found those stimuli so amusing.
Also, individuals who had previously displayed a more mature or high brow sense of humor reverted to a more basic and boisterous type, which was actually extremely rude and offensive to others.
These changes were particularly prevalent among patients who later developed one of two dementia subtypes. Some suffered from semantic dementia, which manifests itself as a progressive inability to recall words, faces, objects, while preserving memory of past events and future plans.
Others were plighted by behavior-variant frontotemporal dementia, which makes patients overly uninhibited, apathetic, compulsive, and devoid of empathy towards others. There were also humor alterations among Alzheimer’s patients, according to their nearest and dearest.
Based on these findings, study authors led by Dr. Camilla Clark suggest that friends and relatives who believe that their loved ones might be displaying unusual symptoms which affect their interactions with others should present this issue to a physician.
Dementia is frequently difficult to diagnose, especially in the early stages, and its signs aren’t strictly related to loss of memory function, disorientation and impaired judgement, as some might be inclined to believe.
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