A new study has found developing a darker sense of humour, which was often inappropriate and graphic, could be an early sign of dementia in some people.

An altered sense of humour could be one of the earlier signs of dementia, according to a new study carried out by University College London.

Researchers polled relatives of 48 people with dementia and found those with the condition started to show signs of an increasingly twisted humour.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Alzheimers, found dementia patients laughed at inappropriate moments, including news reports about natural disasters, or seeing a car parked badly. One relative recalled that the person with dementia laughed after she badly scalded herself.

Satirical comedy such as Yes, Prime Minister or Monty Python became less funny for those with dementia, while more slapstick-style comedy such as Mr Bean was more popular – researchers dubbed it a move towards the ‘fatuous and farcical’.

The study claims that a change in humour was particularly common in frontotemporal dementia, a type which is known to cause a loss of inhibition and an inability to cope in social situations. However, it was also found frequently in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

One study respondent said,

‘Early on, [the person with dementia] laughed very loudly at things that were only mildly funny, flippant or over the top; now laughs all the time at things that are not particularly funny and will say, “I’m laughing and I’m not sure why I’m laughing”.’

While another participant in the study revealed,

‘[They have] little sense of humour at all, do not really find anything funny but will give a silly laugh or sneer when totally inappropriate.’

Alzheimer’s Research UK welcomed the study as a means of raising awareness and helping people to spot the early changes in behaviour that could be dementia, and make a more timely and accurate diagnosis.

‘While memory loss is often the first thing that springs to mind when we hear the word dementia, this study highlights the importance of looking at the myriad different symptoms that impact on daily life and relationships,’ said Dr Simon Ridley from Alzheimer’s Research UK.

For more information on signs and symptoms of dementia, click here.