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Apr 28, 2014 12:49 PM EDT

Laughter Helps Fight Age-Related Memory Loss

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Many people are familiar with the saying, "Laughter is the best medicine," but a new study suggests that the motto may ring true when it comes to age-related memory loss, Medical News Today reported.

Too much stress can contribute to a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.  Recent research has shown that the stress hormone cortisol damages certain neurons in the brain and can negatively affect memory and learning ability in the elderly.

Researchers from Loma Linda University in Southern California delved deeper into cortisol's relationship to memory and whether humor and laughter -- a well-known stress reliever -- can help lessen the damage that cortisol can cause.

"Our research findings offer potential clinical and rehabilitative benefits that can be applied to wellness programs for the elderly," researcher Gurinder Singh Bains said in a statement.

For the study researchers showed a 20-minute laugh-inducing funny video to a group of healthy elderly individuals and a group of elderly people with diabetes. The groups where then asked to complete a memory assessment that measured their learning, recall, and sight recognition. Their performance was compared to a control group of elderly people who also completed the memory assessment, but were not shown a funny video. Cortisol concentrations for both groups were also recorded at the beginning and end of the experiment.

They found a significant decrease in cortisol concentrations among both groups who watched the video.  There was also a great improvement in all areas of the memory assessment when compared to controls, with the diabetic group seeing the most dramatic benefit in cortisol level changes and the healthy elderly seeing the most significant changes in memory test scores.

"The cognitive components -- learning ability and delayed recall -- become more challenging as we age and are essential to older adults for an improved quality of life: mind, body, and spirit," Bains said. "Although older adults have age-related memory deficits, complimentary, enjoyable, and beneficial humor therapies need to be implemented for these individuals."

The findings were presented at the Experimental Biology meeting on April 27.

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