To evaluate the effects of humor therapy assessed using observational methods on agitation, engagement, positive behaviors, affect, and contentment.
Single-blind cluster randomized controlled trial.
A total of 35 Sydney nursing homes.
All eligible residents within geographically defined areas within each nursing home were invited to participate.
Professional “ElderClowns” provided 9 to 12 weekly humor therapy sessions, augmented by resident engagement by trained staff “LaughterBosses.” Controls received usual care.
The Behavior Engagement Affect Measure (BEAM) touchpad observational tool was used to capture real-time behavioral data. The tool assesses the duration in seconds of agitation, positive behavior toward others, engagement, and affect (angry, anxious, happy, neutral, sad).
Seventeen nursing homes (189 residents) received the intervention and 18 homes (209 residents) received usual care. Over 26 weeks, in comparison with controls, the humor therapy group decreased in duration of high agitation (effect size = 0.168 and 0.129 at 13 and 26 weeks, respectively) and increased in duration of happiness (effect size = 0.4 and 0.236 at 13 and 26 weeks, respectively).
We confirmed that humor therapy decreases agitation and also showed that it increases happiness. Researchers may consider evaluating impacts of nonpharmaceutical interventions on positive outcomes. Computer-assisted observational measures should be considered, particularly for residents with dementia and when the reliability of staff is uncertain.