By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: My 76-year-old father used to laugh all the time, but ever since he started having problems with his health, he stopped smiling and laughing. How can I get him laughing again? Craig in Texas, 52

ANSWER: I use a concept called humor therapy quite often since it has proven to be a very effective device for most of my elderly clients. Good things happen when someone enjoys a belly laugh. It's like an internal massage for the soul. Humor can take your father away from his aches and pains and concerns, even if it's just for a moment. That should be the goal of any caregiver.

Each person is different, so you have to read the situation. There is no one way to get someone to laugh again, but it usually works if you draw on his or her past likes. For example, one of my clients was a big Lucile Ball fan, so I bought her a compilation DVD of old "I Love Lucy" shows. We made a date to watch them, and then sat there laughing together for hours, even though we'd both seen the episodes more than a few times before. Another one of my clients used to love telling jokes, so I bought him a joke book. We spent a good part of one day reading the book. From then on, he would have a joke or two to tell me every time I visited, and the jokes always lifted his spirits. We also watched standup comedy shows on cable television. So try using humor therapy. I'm sure your father will be smiling again in no time. It'll also provide you with some lighthearted moments, and I know you probably need that as well right now.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.