My mom has Alzheimer's and laughs all the time, even at things that aren't funny!

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My Mom is 88 and lives with me (her daughter). She was diagnosed four years ago with Alzheimer's, and she's in early stage four. My question is, why does she laugh all the time, at things that are not even funny?

Expert Answer

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

When you say your mother is laughing all the time, it's my guess that you're talking about a chuckle rather than a hearty belly laugh. It's safe to assume that your mother is not aware of her laughter and telling her how much it bothers you would be pointless. Involuntary sounds or movements are often seen in more advanced Alzheimer's and related dementia. As people progress in the disease, they often lose sense of appropriate behavior and along with it an awareness of their impact on other people.

It's pretty common for someone to lose control of their subconscious actions. Some people make constant clicking noises, others have involuntary tics or repetitive movements of their limbs; some twist or pull on their hair, creating bald spots, while others pick at their skin until it's raw. Yet others may react to everything with specific words or phrases. One person I encountered responded to everything with the same phrase: "It's illegal." Some of the more disruptive auto behaviors seem to have to do with release of inhibitions, such as engaging in obscene expletives or compulsive disrobing.

Unless we've practiced our poker-faces, we humans mirror in our facial expressions our emotions and reactions. It's common in Alzheimer's to see a loss of affect, where the internal feelings of a person are absent from her face. Her facial muscles appear slack and she may seem to be disconnected from her reality. However, it's important to keep in mind that although she may not physically show it anymore, a person with Alzheimer's still experiences feelings as much as she always did.

Your mother's laughter may be driving you to distraction. Try to ignore it the way you would ignore somebody's snoring. Please remember that it's part of the disease process: "It's the Alzheimer's laughing." Your mother cannot control this behavior.

You might explore projects and diversions that will engage and stimulate her imagination. This may not stop the laughter, but may at least give you a break while the two of you have a conversation about her project.