Tuesday, February 21, 2012

From Morocco to Australia - the Healing Power of the Fez!

The Humour Valets ready for action

It was a case of "if the hat fits; wear it". One of the most unusual requests that the team at The View from Fez received in recent months was an appeal from a bunch of clowns for thirty Fez hats - literally from a bunch of clowns. The clowns are the Humour Valets of Australia and were about to embark on some medical research with dementia patients. According to the theory, a dose of laughter may be just the medicine elderly people need to combat dementia.

Accordingly, The View from Fez found the thirty Fez hats and dispatched them to Australia. Then we received an urgent email saying that the programme was about to start and the hats were all too large. Another thirty Fezes were procured and mailed to Australia. This time we were taking no chances and included an assortment of sizes.

Some of the hats preparing to head to Australia

Thankfully, either the hats were big enough or the heads small enough and the Australian Humour Valets launched into action. The Valets are part of the work of Jean-Paul Bell, a man whose face is described as 'the face that could launch a thousand laughs'. Jean Paul Bell is one of Australia's great 'Humour-manitarians'  He believes that humour helps put life into perspective. It helps us understand the orthodox, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected and survive the unbearable.

Jean-Paul Bell
Since creating and co-founding the Humour Foundation and their Clown Doctor Program in 1996, Jean-Paul has moved on to found a new company of Valets who are busy showing the world that laughter is the best medicine. In 2010 he wrote Laughter is the Best Medicine which chronicles the experiences of a number of Humour Valets as they do their rounds in children's hospitals around Australia.

Jean-Paul takes big risks, taking his physical comedy to war-torn countries like Afghanistan and East Timor. He proves that the more stressed or threatened people are the greater the potential for laughter: "Humour can have an effect similar to an 'out of body experience', where you look down from the position you are in and embrace the absurd and the ridiculous. Comedy in these situations is more like an extreme sport!" He has also spent an extended time in staying in Fez, a city he feels "totally at home in".

Jean-Paul Bell's great passions are health and education. For twelve months he was involved in a unique project, The Smile Study, a federally funded randomised trial with the Dementia Collaborative Research Centre at UNSW, visiting 18 aged care homes delivering fun and laughter to elderly people suffering with dementia. "I am a great believer in the collaboration of the Arts and Sciences in developing ways of communicating with elderly people suffering from dementia. As we age, more and more funding will be needed to cope with the swelling numbers of Baby Boomers entering this difficult part of their lives," says Jean Paul.

Vera Gracie with Dr Jean-Paul Bell at Whiddon Group Aged Care Facility 

Since December, staff at a number of aged care centres have been joking around with residents all in the name of good health. That is where the Fez hats come in. The staff don fez hats and special uniforms as part of a humour therapy program called Play Up.

An initiative of the Arts Health Institute, it was developed during a study by the University of NSW Dementia Collaborative Research Centre, which looked at the effects of humour therapy on 400 people in 36 aged care centres.

The research findings found that humour therapy could be used to manage agitation experienced by people living with dementia. More than that, the therapy was found to be as effective as anti-psychotic drugs that are used to treat people with dementia.

It can also improve communication and trigger memories.

Jean-Paul Bell, says the type of humour used could penetrate the foggy and confused world of dementia to improve people's quality of life. "We like to provoke them and push them around," he said. "Slapstick also works really well and there is a certain wisdom that only people with dementia have and it's quite remarkable to see."

A film about the work of Jean-Paul and the Humour Valets is about to be released. See the trailer: The Smile Within

The work of the Humour Valets is going so well, that today The View from Fez received a new order for Fez hats, which will soon be winging their way to Australia.

Trivia Fact:  A lot of the best quality Moroccan Fez hats are made from felt-wool from Australian and New Zealand sheep. So for part of these hats it is a return home! 

See also our story: Fezes are Cool


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