Just in time for her 90th birthday, White debuted a new TV series, “Off Their Rockers,” a hidden camera show where elderly individuals prank the younger generation. The pranks capitalize on the endearing qualities of the elderly. Example: A woman who looks to be 80 years old approaches a 20-something man in the airport… and sweetly propositions him to join the mile high club. In another sketch, two elderly men sit down on a bench next to a young woman and start doing the wave. She gives them a confused look and then joins them.
The senior pranksters in “Off Their Rockers” aren’t just getting viewers to laugh; they seem to be having a blast and even laughing themselves. Which is refreshing to see on network television: active, good-natured seniors enjoying their lives, engaging with the world around them.
American viewers, especially those already 55 and older, can borrow a page from White and friends. Laughter is actually terrific medicine for the elderly, and studies have proven it. An Australian humor therapist conducted a three-year study examining the impact of laughter and play on 400 seniors in 36 nursing homes. The dementia patients involved in the study seemed less agitated by 20 percent, said lead researcher Lee-Fay Low at the University of New South Wale’s School of Psychiatry.
“Twenty percent sounds like a small effect but it’s about the same amount, the same effect as you would get if you gave them an antipsychotic medication — medication you would use to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder,” Low told Reuters.
So next time your aging mother or father or friend seems down, take a cue from nonagenarian Betty White, and make them laugh. Or encourage them to make everyone else laugh. They’ll be smiling before they know it.