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Laughter improves aging memory, study finds

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A good belly laugh feels good. But a new study shows laughing may also improve your memory as you age.

Memory and learning ability can be eroded by stress. That's because stress boosts the production of the “stress hormone” cortisol, which can damage the brain’s neurons, Medical News Today reports.

And since laughter relieves stress, researchers at California’s Loma Linda University wanted to know whether laughing could also reduce the brain damage caused by cortisol.

To find out, they studied two groups of healthy seniors. One group watched 20 minutes of funny videos while the other group sat silently. Researchers tested participants’ cortisol levels and ran them through short memory tests before and after the experiments.

The results were striking:

– people in the funny video group had much better memory recall: 43 percent compared with 20 percent in the silent group, and better learning ability and sight recognition.

– people in the video group also had much lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Study co-author Dr. Lee Burk says these findings suggests that the less stress a person has, the better their memory performance.

"Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state," he says.

Managing My Brain Health

Memory loss can be caused by a number of conditions — not only Alzheimer's disease — in older adults. Mayo Clinic experts say some degree of memory problems, as well as a modest decline in other thinking skills, are a fairly common part of aging. There's a difference, however, between normal changes in memory and the type of memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. And some memory problems are the result of treatable conditions.

– If you're experiencing memory problems, talk to your doctor to get a timely diagnosis and appropriate care.

– Learn more about the causes of memory loss at the National Institute on Aging.

– Learn more about when to seek help for memory loss at Mayo Clinic.

– Watch a video about the latest in treatment for people with dementia by the New York Memory Center:

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