Academic journal article Creative Nursing

Joy, Happiness, and Humor in Dementia Care: A Qualitative Study

Academic journal article Creative Nursing

Joy, Happiness, and Humor in Dementia Care: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt

People with advanced dementia can still enjoy life. Even if their language is impaired and they live in the moment, it should still be possible for them to live a life of pleasure and joy. A pilot study was conducted to learn more about these individuals' experiences, but because of the decline in their access to language, it was necessary to have others speak on their behalf. Analysis of findings was based on a hermeneutic approach inspired by Ricoeur (1981). Central findings were that all the interviewees emphasized humor and interacting with other people as a source of happiness.

Keywords: dementia; joy; happiness; humor; companionship; care

According to Naess, Mourn, and Erikson (2011), the feeling of happiness is an important factor in experiencing a good quality of life. Happiness can be described as "the ultimate feeling of well-being," and shared moments of happiness can be found in our relationships with others (Olsson, Backe, Sorensen, & Kock, 2002). Happiness is a central theme in Persaud's (2009) study of what creates pleasures in the daily lives of people with advanced dementia.

The primary goal of this article is to learn more about this important aspect of the world of people with dementia. The research question was, What makes people with dementia happy? This is an important aspect of holistic nursing care and a theme little discussed in international literature.

In this article, the terms people with dementia and residents will be used synonymously.


Happiness is closely connected to humor, pleasure, and joy, factors important for quality of life and self- or personhood. The word personhood is used to describe a person's fundamental traits (Dewing, 2008). When one's personhood is maintained, well-being is possible, and is often manifested through a positive or happy mood (Ellis & Astell, 2010; Kitwood, 2012; Lawrence, 2007).

Meyers calls happiness an enduring sense of positive well-being and a feeling of life as fulfilling, meaningful, and pleasant (Reich & Diener, 1994). Pleasure is a positive feeling or sensation caused by an "episode" that varies in duration and intensity (Persaud, 2009). This feeling may be a joint experience such as sharing music in a natural and intuitive way (Myskja, 2011). Happiness creates positivity of mind, often in connection with joy or the sharing of humor. Myskja (2013) emphasizes that spontaneous joy produces confidence and a feeling of security.

Humor is a natural part of our everyday life. Appreciating humor is an innate ability we develop while growing up and is affected by our life experiences. Humor is an essential ingredient or "bridge" in close interaction between people (Olsson et ab, 2002). Tanay, Roberts, and Ream (2012) describe humor as a subjective emotional response that comes from the recognition and expression of incongruity of a comic, absurd, or impulsive situation or remark, and enhances feelings of togetherness and closeness. It can affect a person's spiritual, social, and cognitive well-being, which again may enhance interpersonal relationships.

To live with dementia means to live in the moment because the anchoring to the past and the future has been disrupted (Engedal, Haugen, & Brækhus, 2009). The experience of the here and now is therefore essential and makes happy moments of shared joy and humor particularly important, not the least in a special care unit for patients with dementia.


Persons with advanced dementia are vulnerable owing to mental limitations and language decline, necessitating having others speak on their behalf (Engedal et al., 2009). This process is called the use of "proxy" informants (Bockmann & Kjelle void, 2010). Close family members are usually well informed about the person's former life and interests and are able to pick up on subtle cues and idiosyncrasies (Bockman & Kjellevold, 2010; Persaud, 2009). Thus researchers may surmount the limitations caused by the person's dementia. …

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