Klobuchar, Franken, and laughter at 2012 Meeting of the Minds conference on Alzheimer’s disease


While the St. Paul streets seemingly turned green for St. Patrick’s Day, a conference of people committed to learning about Alzheimer’s disease met inside the St. Paul River Centre. Despite the weightiness of the topic, their day ended on a lighter note.

Senator Amy Klobuchar took the stage at the annual Alzheimer’s Association’s Meeting of the Minds conference. Loud applause greeted her approach. As part of her speech, she highlighted the growing support in the U.S. Senate for Alzheimer’s disease research. Klobuchar is a co-sponsor of the Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act, which would involve a federal commitment to research on Alzheimer’s disease. She noted that research both saves money and lives.

Next to the podium was Senator Al Franken. He spoke about his mother, whom he said had dementia for the last five years of her life. Franken also mentioned the Older Americans Act and his part in working on its reauthorization. “This disease touches every American,” he said. He agreed that increasing research for Alzheimer’s disease is important, saying that such research needed a breakthrough. Franken’s speech was touched with humor that brought laughter and prepared the audience for closing keynote speaker Susan Vass.

Susan Vass is a speaker who knows how to make her audience laugh, and for good reason. Vass believes that laughter has therapeutic qualities. She listed a few of them, such as the production of endorphins and lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. Adults need to laugh more, Vass declared, and she proceeded to share jokes, stories, and anecdotes for the purpose of laughter.

Vass talked about topics ranging from weight loss and weight gain to her fear of flying. She wondered why the airport depot is called the “terminal,” for instance, and why the plane’s landing path is called the “final approach.” In her discussion of food, Vass joked about buying fruits and vegetables from the farmers market and then depositing them in the bin at the bottom of the refrigerator. “I call it the rotter,” she said.

Near the end of her time, Vass gave a list of the 18 life lessons that she has learned. A few examples are below:

  • “Everything you need to know is not learned in kindergarten, thank God.”
  • “Everyone lies to their dentist about flossing.”
  • “If the elevator light is lit when you get there, repeatedly pushing it will not make it come faster.”
  • “There is found humor everywhere if you will only look.”

She ended her talk with the hope that she had helped listeners benefit from shared laughter.

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