Developing a twisted sense of humor could be an earlier sign of dementia, according to new research.
The study, conducted at University College London (UCL), looked at 48 patients suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD) – which affects the region behind the forehead – and Alzheimer’s disease. Using a series of questionnaires, they asked friends or relatives of the participants what type of comedy they preferred: slapstick comedy such as Mr Bean, satirical comedy such as Yes Minister (imagine a 1980s British Veep if you're not familiar) or absurd comedy such as Monty Python. They then compared the results with 21 healthy people of a similar age.
The results, which were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that all the patients with dementia tended to enjoy slapstick comedy rather than subtle satirical or absurdist humor.
The study also found a highly altered sense of humor in the group of people with a specific form of FTD, called behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD). This is a rarer form of dementia, which is less associated with memory loss and more to do with change in personality and loss of inhibitions.
They also used anecdotal evidence from friends and family of FTD sufferers, which asked them to reflect on the past 15 years and note any peculiar behavior changes. Many reported a shift into “darker humor,” often finding inappropriate and even tragic events funny, such as one man who laughed when his wife badly scalded herself.
They also found that with bvFTD often laughed hysterically at everyday things that others would struggle to find any humor in, such as a badly parked car or barking dog, but the other groups did not.
Dr Camilla Clark, who led the research at the UCL Dementia Research Centre, said in a statement: “As sense of humor defines us and is used to build relationships with those around us, changes in what we find funny has impacts far beyond picking a new favorite TV show.
“As well as providing clues to underlying brain changes, subtle differences in what we find funny could help differentiate between the different diseases that cause dementia. Humor could be a particularly sensitive way of detecting dementia because it puts demands on so many different aspects of brain function, such as puzzle solving, emotion and social awareness.”
Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, also stressed the importance of this study in helping doctors identify and diagnose dementia earlier: “While memory loss is often the first thing that springs to mind when we hear the word dementia, this study highlights the importance of looking at the myriad different symptoms that impact on daily life and relationships
“A deeper understanding of the full range of dementia symptoms will increase our ability to make a timely and accurate diagnosis.”
Of course, this study looked at changes in sense of humor, so if you’ve always had a rather warped sense of humor, there’s no cause for concern. Other than for your poor friends who have to put up with it.