We all have a friend that enjoys inappropriate jokes or slapstick humour more than any sensible person ought to. University College London researchers now claim that a twisted sense of humour might be an indicator of dementia setting in, particularly if the person in question used to have a different sense of humour.
The researchers based their findings on anecdotal evidence provided by the friends and relatives of 48 dementia patients. This inner circle had known the patient for at least 15 years before the disease took off.
Apparently, the friends and family almost unanimously noted how the patient's sense of humour shifted towards inappropriateness. Many confessed their loved ones suffering from dementia would frequently burst in laughter at tragic events in the news or in personal life. For instance, one person involved in the study recounted how a relative began laughing when his wife badly scalded herself.
Dr Camilla Clark of UCL and colleagues asked the correspondents to rate their loved one's liking for different kinds of comedy, be it slapstick comedy like "Mr. Bean", satirical like "Yes, Minister" or absurdist like "Monty Python".
"As sense of humour 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 favourite TV show," Dr. Clark told The Telegraph.
"We’ve highlighted the need to shift the emphasis from dementia being solely about memory loss.
"These findings have implications for diagnosis – not only should personality and behaviour changes ring alarm bells, but clinicians themselves need to be more aware of these symptoms as an early sign of dementia."
It's important to note that the dementia patients didn't have these kind of reactions before. Moreover, the twisted humour starter creeping in, according to relatives and friends, some time before the diagnosis came in, which could make it a marker.
The researchers from London found the altered sense of humour most common in patients suffering from semantic dementia and a variety of frontotemporal dementia. Change in humour was also found among Alzheimer's patients.
Frontotemporal dementia affects areas of personality and behaviour, most often than not causing impulsiveness, loss of inhibitions and leading to interpersonal conflicts. As such, it's not entirely surprising to hear it can also alter humour.
Some examples of the kind of stories the friends and relatives shared to the researchers, as found by The Guardian:
“I have asthma – [they] laugh sometimes when I am fighting to get my breath,”
“Used to be very witty but that has all gone; humour has to be more obvious, laughs if others laugh,” one wrote.
“[They have] little sense of humour at all, does not really find anything funny but will give a silly laugh or sneer when totally inappropriate,” another wrote.
“[his humor is] very rude and graphic, everything is now ‘funny’”
The researchers involved in the study advise anyone concerned with changes in their behaviour should contact a doctor immediately.
"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," said Dr Simon Ridley, from Alzheimer's Research UK, which partly funded the study.
"A deeper understanding of the full range of dementia symptoms will increase our ability to make a timely and accurate diagnosis."