Laughing the best medicine to avoid higher nursing care risks: Japan researchers

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Kenji Takeuchi, an associate professor at Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine who conducted research on the relationship between laughter and nursing care risks, is shown in this photo provided by him.

TOKYO — The effect a chuckle has on an individual’s physical and mental health has been scientifically examined from various angles and one central Japan study has found that the absence of laughter can lead to serious nursing care risks for the elderly.

A research team at Nagoya University studied the differences in the potential likelihood of requiring nursing care between individuals who laugh regularly and those who do not giggle as much. The unprecedented, large-scale research examined some 14,000 people over a span of three years.

The research team was led by Kenji Takeuchi, an associate professor at Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine. According to Takeuchi, the impact that laughter has on health has long attracted attention in the field of medicine, and it has been pointed out that having a chuckle may possibly decrease risks of dementia, diabetes, and heart disease.

The Nagoya University research team sought to find whether there was any relationship between how often people laugh, and their need for nursing care, as well as deaths. The study was conducted between 2013 and 2016, and the findings were recently compiled following data analysis and statistical processing. Associate professor Takeuchi said that the study is the first case in the world that examines the relationship between the frequency of laughter and whether people need nursing care. Furthermore, most research on laughter conducted thus far observed short-term effects on a small scale, and a study occurring on a large scale for a long term is said to be rare in the world.

For the study, a questionnaire sheet was mailed to individuals aged 65 or older who had not been certified as requiring nursing care, and asked respondents to answer the number of times they usually laugh out loud in their daily lives by choosing among the four options of “almost every day,” “about once to five times a week,” “about once to three times a month,” and “almost never.” The researchers tracked 14,233 individuals, who filled in all the required fields in the questionnaire, for a total of three years, and examined whether there was a link between the amount of laughter, and elderly people whose required care level is 2 or above, and those who died. Factors including family structure, pre-existing illnesses, and depressive tendencies were taken into account during statistical processing in order to remove factors unrelated to laughter as much as possible.

A total of 6,120 people answered that they laugh “almost every day,” 5,440 responded with “about once to five times a week,” 1,639 chose “about once to three times a month,” and 1,034 individuals claimed that they “almost never have a giggle.” A large majority of subjects appear to be leading lives with laughter, regardless of their frequency.

The research team labeled the risk of requiring nursing care for those who laugh “almost every day” as a standard 1, and calculated the figures of individuals in the other categories. Based on this comparison, individuals who laugh “about once to five times a week” have a risk of 1.04, while those who laugh “about once to three times a month” have a risk of 0.97.

Associate professor Takeuchi explained that “a difference of 0.3 to 0.4 points has no statistical significance.” Hence, it can apparently be viewed that there is no clear difference between those who answered that they laugh almost every day are practically no different from those who said they laughed once to five times a week, and those that giggle once to three times a month.

However, the category of people who “almost never laugh” was given a risk level of 1.42. This means that those who rarely chuckle have a risk of requiring nursing care which is 1.4 times greater than that of those who laugh “almost every day.”

Meanwhile, a relationship between laughter and death apparently could not be found in the study, but a nursing care risk of 1.4 times greater can also be said to be a serious issue. When asked why the risk becomes greater for individuals who do not laugh, Takeuchi said, “We don’t have a clear answer, but there have been reports from various research in the past that the act of laughing improves functions of the immune system as well as blood circulation. It is also said that laughter itself has the effect of reducing stress. It is estimated that such factors accumulate, and laughing prevents the need for nursing care, while not laughing can lead to higher risks.”

(Japanese original by Makiko Osako, Integrated Digital News Center)

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