Want a good laugh? Head to the hospital.July 21, 2015
They gather in a room next to the hospital cafeteria for the “Laugh Cafe,” one of the activities offered to local seniors, including the 7,300 members of Sibley’s Senior Association. The price of admission is one joke, recited out loud. Experts say laughing can be good for your health, and everyone in the room strongly agrees.
“Absolutely, it’s the best medicine,” said Joanne Philleo, 79, from Bethesda.
“I like to come with Joanne, and I love the jokes,” said Jean Altimont, 89. “I never dreamed of telling a joke in front of a group, and the first time I came, I was real nervous.”
Some jokes took a few twists before getting to the punchline, a few were almost R-rated, others were one- liners: My husband wanted more space, so I left him outside. I sold my vacuum because it was gathering dust. Why do men like smart women? Because opposites attract.
And if one had been told before, no one cared.
The association for those age 50 or older also offers other activities, including French and Italian conversation classes, day trips to museums, a current events group, and — the latest addition — tango lessons. In addition, members receive discounts on hospital parking and at the gift shop, pharmacy and restaurant. In all, more than 10,000 seniors participate.
“I call this a senior center without walls,” said Marti Bailey, the association’s director. The program started in 1987 with exercise and patient-support groups. Members pay a one-time $40 membership fee.
Sibley is one of several hospitals in the Washington area — along with others across the country — offering social activities and other benefits to help seniors stay healthy and out of the hospital, while encouraging them to visit. Participants do not need to have been patients.
But some experts are concerned that the activities are less about health than about marketing to Medicare beneficiaries, especially those who can go to the hospital of their choice when they need care because they are not enrolled in private insurance plans with limited provider networks.