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Having a Twisted Sense of Humor could be an Indicator of Dementia

Update Date: Nov 11, 2015 03:16 PM EST

Changes in a person's sense of humor can be an early sign of dementia, a new study reported.

According to researchers from University College London, older adults who have a twisted sense of humor, such as laughing during inappropriate moments, might have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia.

For this study, the researchers examined data on 48 people with dementia (Alzheimer's, frontotemporal lobar degenerations and semantic dementia) and 21 healthy adults. All of the dementia patients were receiving treatment at a clinic. Data on the patients' brain condition was based on cognitive function, brain scans and other forms of testing.

Relatives or close friends who knew the participants for more than 15 years were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about their sense of humor. The questionnaire covered any changes in humor and the types of humor the participants liked. The three types listed for the purpose of the study were farcical/slapstick, absurdist and satirical.

The researchers discovered that the patients were less likely than the healthy adults to laugh at satirical or absurdist humor and were more likely to enjoy slapstick humor. The team also found that the patients experienced a decline in their satisfaction levels for satirical or absurdist humor on an average of nine years before more obvious and typical dementia symptoms started to manifest.

The researchers noted that the majority of the patients also developed a darker sense of humor and some were unable to comprehend jokes by taking them literally.

"These were marked changes - completely inappropriate humor well beyond the realms of even distasteful humor. For example, one man laughed when his wife badly scalded herself," Dr. Camilla Clark explained reported by BBC News.

The researchers believe that their study's findings could be helpful in detecting early cases of dementia. They noted, however, that their study was very small and the measurement of humor was based solely on the subjects' caregivers' reports, which can be biased.

"We hope that our findings will stimulate interest in humor as an engaging, ecologically relevant and informative index of social functioning in neurodegenerative disease," the authors wrote.

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

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