Feb 3, 2015

9 Ways A Smile Can Change Everything

By Marie Marley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

9 Ways A Smile Can Change Everything

Yesterday when I was making a deposit at the bank, I was lost in thought as I approached the teller. And it was not the most pleasant thought either. I must have had an unhappy look on my face.

I was caught by surprise when the teller smiled at me and asked in a cheerful tone of voice, “How’s your day going?”

I instantly smiled back and said, “Pretty good.” I have to admit that I actually felt much better.

In an April 2013 article here on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, “Dementia Care and the Smile,”  Bob DeMarco stated that “The smile is a powerful tool in life. A powerful nonverbal communication tool.”

He then recounted the story of how he eventually got Dotty to smile.

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“My mother, Dotty, didn’t laugh or smile for two years and it was killing me. Tearing my heart and stomach right out of my body. This happened during the first years that I was caring for Dotty. Fortunately, we eventually reached the point where Dotty was smiling with greater and greater frequency.”

“In the first few years Dotty often woke up with a dull, unhappy look on her face. I started putting my arm around her in the morning, and I put my head on her head. Then I got around in front of her, bent down a bit to get on her level and smiled.”

Bob said he waited as she smiled back.

He continued, “Here is the most important part – Dotty sometimes smiled at me first as I took her hands. I always smiled back.”

Hundreds of published articles mention the importance of smiling. But what does the research say?

Does smiling really make a difference in how you feel or the other person feels?

Let’s take a look at some of the literature on this topic. First we’ll look at the effects of smiling on the person who is smiling; then we’ll review the research on the effects on the person being smiled at.

Effects on the Person Smiling

Smiling has been found to have beneficial effects on the person who is smiling. According to an article on the Live Strong website, “A study conducted by the British Dental Health Foundation showed the act of smiling can dramatically improve one’s mood.”

Another study, conducted by Dr. David Beales, co-author of “Emotional Healing for Dummies,” found that “Smiling causes a release of endorphins, your body’s natural pain-relieving and feel-good hormones.”


Effects on the Person Being Smiled at

Research has also discovered that being smiled at has positive effects. The British Dental Health Foundation, again as reported on the Live Strong website, states that “Smiling increases happiness both in yourself and those around you.”

A comprehensive article on this topic was published in Positive Psychology News Daily. Entitled “Smile and Others Smile With You: Health Benefits, Emotional Contagion and Mimicry,” the article reviews 10 scientific research studies on the benefits of smile for the person being smiled at. The article reports the following findings of the various studies:
  1. When you smile at someone, their muscles maneuver into a smile as well.
  2. This process is also known as emotional contagion. That is, emotions are contagious. Feeling good is infectious.
  3. Mimicking a person’s bodily state or facial expression causes physical responses in the receiver’s body that are identical to those in the sender’s.
  4. If you mimic [another person’s] smile . . . your body will release serotonin, dopamine and other “feel-good” indicators.
  5. Frequent smiling has many therapeutic and health benefits. 
  6. Smiling Boosts the immune system.
  7. Smiling Increases positive affect.
  8. Smiling Reduces stress.
  9. Smiling Lowers blood pressure.
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Alone

So it not only makes good common sense to smile at the person you’re caring for. There’s scientific evidence that it will make the person feel better and also improve your sense of wellbeing.

Though most research refers to the effect of smiling among the general public, we could assume the same applies to smiling at a person who has Alzheimer’s. In fact, smiling at a person with Alzheimer’s may be even more important, especially smiling at people who no longer talk and where nonverbal communication may be the only form of communication.

Do any of you make a special point to smile at your loved one frequently?

More Articles on Alzheimer's and Dementia

  1. Alzheimer's Tip Communication and Socialization
  2. Dotty Did Not Allow Alzheimer's to Define Her
  3. 16 Things I Would Want, If I Get Dementia
  4. Caregivers May Face Roller Coaster Effect with Lewy Body Dementia Symptoms
  5. Alzheimer's Robbed Us of Our Ability to Communicate
  6. 10 Tips for Communicating with an Alzheimer's Patient
  7. 2 Nonverbal Communications Tips for Alzheimer's Caregivers
  8. Learning How to Communicate with Someone Living with Alzheimer's

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Smiling has been found to have beneficial effects on the person who is smiling.

The act of smiling can dramatically change the attitude and behavior of a person living with Alzheimer's.

You are reading original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room