Humor and laughter are important to the welfare of elderly patients, says a local nursing home official.

Elaine Blackburn, administrator at the Richfield Care Center, said humor is frequently utilized as a nursing intervention in the institution's care of the elderly. She recommends it to officials of other institutions and to those who are caring for the elderly in their homes."It creates a relaxed atmosphere, which enables (the elderly) to be more receptive to learning and more willing to participate in their own care."

Humor can also be used to help families through the stress of care-giving. Furthermore, Blackburn said it is a great social communication strategy.

"It is a stimulus that encourages social interactions and promotes group cohesiveness. Humor can be used as an icebreaker to help establish rapport with patients and families. Utilizing humor conveys a message of caring and humanity, and it unites people, acknowledges acceptance of them, and creates a common bond."

She said that as a person's health declines, self-perception may become negative. "Humor promotes a more positive attitude, encompasses the realms of body, mind and spirit, and it helps provide the patient and caregiver relief from anxiety, stress and pain."

"The ability to laugh and use humor may be an indicator of a person's degree of mental maturity and health, and demonstrates coping capacity."

Blackburn said this philosophy may also be of use to businesses.

"Utilization of humor in the workplace helps in relieving the feeling of burnout. Use humor in your daily life. Laugh and enjoy. It is not only a source of happiness to you and others, it is also very healthful."

She added, "Humor that produces laughter provides physiologic benefits through improving oxygenation and energy levels. Laughter stimulates the skeletal, facial, abdominal and thoracic muscles, the heart rate increases, the body temperature rises.