Humor Helps Elderly Cope With Challenges Of Aging

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We’d like to share a recent story about a Stanford linguist whose study of older people’s conversations unearthed a common communication strategy that may help the elderly cope with sickness or the death of a loved one. It’s called “quotidian reframing.”

Stanford linguist Yoshiko Matsumoto’s study focused on older women’s conversations about the death of their husbands. She analyzed more than 60 hours of recordings over six months, collecting conversations between elderly women as they socialized.

She paid particular attention to conversations that included humor. She found women who reframed a sad story through an ordinary, or “quotidian,” perspective helped everyone in the conversation feel comfortable again. In one instance, a woman laughed when recounting how she used to lecture her husband about his smoking and drinking habits – which became the cause of his death.

Matsumoto observed another widow who spoke of her husband’s death who “complained, half joking, that her husband told her to shush up when she tried to talk to him, saying he was trying to sleep and she was being too noisy,” Matsumoto said. The widow laughed because it reminded her of her husband’s perpetual complaining.

Matsumoto asserts older people who can move from the “somber” telling of a story to the “ordinary,” which she calls “quotidian reframing,” are able to lessen the stress of a traumatic event. “Reframing a traumatic event in the context of everyday life seems to be quite effective as a means of emotion regulation,” she said.

“The quotidian perspective becomes more important when the situation you are in is psychologically intense.” Matsumoto said. “This is the power of the quotidian.”

Matsumoto’s research illustrates how important it is for older people to have casual conversations with people their own age. “Older people can feel marginalized in family conversations. As with everyone else, older people need friends,” Matsumoto said.

Matsumoto’s believes her study can be applied to elder care. She suggests that caregivers provide environments for older adults to casually speak with friends, instead of just offering psychotherapy or group therapy.

Matsumoto also stressed the value of healthcare providers who “remain aware that each older person has a continuous personal history” and that “reference to this history may be appreciated” because it “helps them to realign themselves with their familiar identity.”

Read the story here.

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