RSL Care has become the sunshine state’s first aged care provider to try out the celebrated Play Up program, which aims to improve the lives of aged care residents with dementia or depression using comedy and performance techniques.

Christine Schwarten, lifestyle manager at RSL Care’s Treetops Caring Community in the Brisbane suburb of New Farm, said she was proud to be the first in Queensland to employ the innovative program that uses humour to reach people with dementia.

“It is well known that people living with dementia often lose the confidence and skills to engage with loved ones and other people which can lead to loneliness and isolation,” Ms Schwarten said.

“At RSL Care we constantly seek ways to help all of our residents remain connected and proudly support a number of research projects to enhance quality of life for people living with dementia.

“Play Up involves specially trained performers using humour, song and other playful therapies to entertain and engage our high care residents. Importantly, the performers will work with our staff to tailor individual performances to specific residents or groups of residents to help them best respond and reconnect.

“It is not only a beautiful way for our residents to re-engage in a safe and playful environment, it also reflects RSL Care’s lifestyle approach which places the person at the centre of everything we do.”

Ms Schwarten said that to ensure the continuity and longevity of the program, humour therapists would provide staff with the skills and experience to become ‘Play Up partners’.

“Humour therapy is such a different way of thinking, it’s important for staff to understand the program so they can continue the laugher in between the weekly performer visits,” she said.

“The level of interest from staff has been very encouraging and we all look forward to launching this wonderful program which will no doubt help to boost staff morale and enjoyment too.”

Play Up was developed by the Arts Health Institute and its creative director, Jean-Paul Bell, one of the founders of the Humour Foundation, a non-profit organisation that provides clown doctors as humour therapy for sick children.

Mr Bell developed the idea of applying humour therapy to aged care together with Dr Peter Spitzer, who recently took his own humour therapy program, Laughter Boss training, to Tabeel Lutheran Home in Queensland last November.

The Arts Health Institute’s CEO, Dr Maggie Haertsch, said Play Up has put into practice the findings of a pioneering four-year study of Mr Bell and Dr Spitzer’s humour therapy interventions, involving 400 residents in 36 aged care facilities around Sydney.

“The findings of the SMILE Study, conducted by the University of NSW Dementia Collaborative Research Centre, revealed that humour was as effective as medication in managing agitation in people living with dementia – without the side-effects,” Dr Haertsch said.

“The more humour therapy a person had, the greater the quality of life, reduction in depression and increase in social engagement,” 

“The positive impact of the program has started to snowball with 18 aged care providers in New South Wales now running the program since it was launched in September last year.

“We are encouraged by RSL Care’s enthusiasm to join the growing number of aged care facilities using the known benefits of humour to help improve the quality of life for residents and congratulate RSL Care on its commitment to innovative care.”

The benefits of the program were highlighted in a documentary called The Smile Within that has been screened at several seminars and conferences related to aged care and dementia, as well as on ABC1’s Compass program last week.

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