They say that laughter is the best medicine and a group of South Coast health professionals certainly received a good dose of it yesterday.
More than 50 workers - mainly from aged care facilities - attended a Wollongong workshop run by Australia’s best-known clown doctor Dr Peter Spitzer and one of the world’s leading researchers on clown therapy, Professor Bernie Warren.
Walking into the workshop, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the participants had gone barking mad with them literally ‘‘woofing’’ the words to You Are My Sunshine, while props including red clown noses and rubber chickens lined the wall.
But there’s a method to the madness according to Dr Spitzer who said play, humour and clown skills could be used by workers in a variety of healthcare settings.
The co-founder of The Humour Foundation, a national charity which promotes and delivers the health benefits of humour, said the healing power of laughter was well known. It reduced anxiety, relieves tension and boosts the immune system.
Dr Spitzer said humour was especially powerful in aged care facilities.
‘‘The job of a court jester used to be to bring a balance to a very serious situation,’’ he said.
‘‘What you have in aged and dementia care is a very serious situation and the care that’s provided needs to continue, but is that enough?
‘‘If there was the possibility of lightening the mood, lightening the journey for people, shouldn’t we try to do that?
‘‘If we can engage and connect with them through play, through laughter or through reminiscing, then isn’t that worth doing?’’
Yesterday’s workshop, hosted by the NSW/ACT Dementia Training Study Centre based at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus, attracted participants from across the region.
Kirra Nosworthy, who works at Uniting Care’s Osborne House in Nowra, plans to put the activities and skills she’s gained into practice.
‘‘I work in dementia care which I love and I thought by furthering my skills in this area it would be a great way to introduce new activities at work,’’ she said.
‘‘Anything that brings a smile to the face of the people I work with is a great thing.’’
Professor Warren has conducted a wealth of research into clown therapy, and has taught clowning since 1977.
‘‘One of the research projects we have done, Down Memory Lane, found that people who were lost in dementia, who couldn’t remember their own names or what day of the week it was...these people did remember what day the clowns had come in and what activities they’d done and they’d talk about it all week,’’ he said.
‘‘We found that the combination of the clown nose, along with the singing and the colour, somehow acts as a memory stimulus. ‘‘It creates a memory bridge that takes dementia patients back to their childhood, then walks them back to the present, and on the way they collect precious memories which they bring back with them.’’