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Health benefits of clowning around

There’s been some funny business going on at Uniting Koombahla residential facility in Elermore Vale, Newcastle; specially trained clowns are entertaining residents with their singing, dancing and humour, and it’s been achieving some remarkable results.   

Elder Clowns use humour to take people’s minds off their pain or other issues
Elder Clowns use humour to take people’s minds off their pain or other issues

The Elder Clowns program is an initiative of the Humour Foundation, a charity dedicated to promoting and delivering the health benefits of humour. By working in partnership with facility staff and residents, highly skilled professional performers aim to help improve the quality of life of residents.

“It’s made a huge difference to a lot of people,” explains lifestyle coordinator Jeanette Williams, who has also been trained as a clown. “One lady would give us a very frosty reception but now she likes to get privied up and look great for the clown visits.”

Ms Williams says residents who are living with dementia or who are feeling isolated or lonely are benefitting from the Clown Program, and highlights humour helps takes people’s minds off their pain or other issues. “It’s about the moment,” she says. “We take to them to another place. It also activates some residents into reminiscing.”

At Koombahla elder clown Chris Kelly, a professionally trained clown from the Foundation leads the frivolities, and trained staff who are also dressed up, support him. “We’re a bit like the side kick,” explains Ms Williams. “A lot relies on spontaneity and we work off the elder clown enhancing his act or holding a resident’s hand and spending quality time with that person.”

Mr Kelly has been a professional a clown since he studied drama at collage and he has entertained all ages. “Working with older people involves more listening; I’ve seen massive things happen,” he says. “One gentleman had trouble talking but, I connected with him through a shared interest in snooker. From this we started doing music; I gave him an egg-shaker and his rhythm was perfect. There was joy on his face and when we stopped the music, he started to sing the words.”

The program has seen some some phenomenal results

“Another gentleman who’d never played an instrument played the harmonica and one 96 year old lady whistles jazz – it’s an honour to be in their presence,” he says.

Sharna Southwell, Program Development Officer with the Humour Foundation says the program has been running for about five years on a national level. “We’ve seen some phenomenal results,” she says. “It’s a different way of looking at care in a person centred way – it’s good to have a laugh with someone.”

Everyone at Koombahla it appears is benefitting. “People hear us and come and look out to see what’s happening,” says Ms Williams. “The whole place and culture of the building is as one through this lovely innovative program and we’re proud and honoured to be a part of that. It lets people feel good about themselves, and gives them permission to so something silly or have that little bit of fun.”  

As well as working in aged care facilities, the Humour Foundation is also helping personal carers of people living with dementia. “We are running workshops for carers to show them they can still connect with family members with dementia in other ways – everyone still wants to laugh and play,” she says. 

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