October 21, 2000
Rx: Laughter Helping kids with a healthy dose of humor
By: Stefania Di Mambro
Fear and a feeling of complete helplessness-- Thats just what Sharon DuFresne, a staffer here at One World recently experienced when she and her husband had to rush their two year old son Jean to the emergency room due to a tremendous amount of pain the toddler had in his legs--hindering his ability to walk and run. They had us in the waiting room and after seeing a couple of doctors and being poked at and looked at, they wanted to do a full body CAT scan. My son was freaking out, recalls Sharon. To calm him down before the procedure, the doctor suggested sedating Jean. Now I was freaking out, says Sharon. The nurse in a very nice way suggested that we reconsider the sedation, as some toddlers react very differently to the medication and they end up having to stay 1-2 hours longer at the hospital. As we nervously waited, the nurse came into the room and dimmed the lights and turned on the TV. We all sat there and watched re-runs of I Love Lucy and Happy Days and <i>believe<i/> me when I say this really relaxed all of us. My son actually became very calm and starting laughing at Lucy imitating a baby crying. This was just what the doctor did <i> not<i/> order LAUGHTER. It made such a huge difference. It even took <i>my</i> mind off the situation. When it came time for the CAT scan, doctors did not have to sedate Jean. Thankfully, everything checked out just fine. The intense pain the toddler was feeling was due to an unusually fast growth spurt. Little Jean is now back to being an active toddler.
So, if watching the antics of that famously wacky redhead on I Love Lucy calmed a frightened two year old, could that same humor have positive effects on seriously ill children with diseases such as cancer and AIDS?
Well, thats just what a research team at the UCLA Mattel Childrens Hospital is trying to determine in a study called Rx Laughter. By showing classic comedy films, TV shows, and cartoons, like I Love Lucy, Mork and Mindy, Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Bros, Bugs Bunny and more researchers will examine whether humor helps to reduce stress, ease fear and pain and promote faster healing. We have a pretty good idea about the impact that laughter and humor can have on a persons mental well being, says Dr. Lonnie Zeltzer, a UCLA cancer researcher and Director of the Pediatric Pain Program at the Mattel Childrens Hospital, but no one really looked with any depth at the possible biological links between health, having a good sense of humor and the act of laughter itself, says Zeltzer. Well study the impact both laughter and humor have on the immune system and pain transmission and control.
The non-profit study launched last May, was founded by Sherry Dunay Hilber, a UCLA alum and former primetime TV comedy executive at ABC and CBS, where she oversaw hit sitcoms such as <i> Roseanne and Coach. <i/> I have often wondered, while watching an audience laugh, how they were possibly affected both physically and emotionally by their laughter, says Hilber.
The five year long study will first focus on the effect humor has on healthy kids and adolescents both physically and emotionally. Researchers will then focus on testing the physiological responses to laughter in children and adolescents who are suffering from conditions such as cancer and AIDS as well as other diseases that effect the immune system. Well monitor the patients stress response, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and the levels of a stress related hormone called, Cortisol, says researcher Dr. Margaret Stuber, an expert in Psychiatry and Bio-behavioral Sciences at UCLA.
If laughter proves to be the best medicine, Hilber and the research team hope that hospitals and Doctors will create a hospital wide program schedule containing the comedy videos the study found to be most effective. Patients will then be able to view the comedic tapes during blood drawings, chemotherapy, dialysis and other stressful tests and treatments. In dialysis, the pediatric patients must come for treatments 3 times a week, for at least three hours each time. They (and their parents) have very little to do while the procedure is taking place and the constant noise from monitors are depressing and monotonousit is a perfect time for them to watch funny videos to help pass the time, and take their minds off of the treatment, says Hilber. Even if theyre not laughing out loud, they may still find it as a tremendous comfort.
Former writers from the hit comedy classic I Love Lucy as well as offspring of classic comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, Lou Costello, Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields and Harpo Marx are just a few members of the Rx Laughter advisory board. The studys funding comes in part from a grant from the cable TV network Comedy Central and is part of the networks Comedy Rx program designed to heighten awareness of the positive effects laughter can have.
If you would like to send a tax deductible donation to the Rx Laughter study, please make a check out payable to the "The UCLA Foundation." Also include a cover note (or even a post it) saying that your donation goes directly and only to the Rx Laughter project. You can mail your check and note to:
For more on Rx Laughter go to: www.rxlaughter.org
You can check out Comedy Centrals website at www.comedycentral.com