They studied the value of humour in palliative and intensive care wards and found it could benefit both patients and caregivers.
"In a nutshell, the palliative care study revealed humour is very much a part of living each day to the fullest," said Ruth Dean, of the University of Manitoba and a co-author of the study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
She added that quality of life and human relationships are the most important part of care for the critically ill.
The researchers spent almost 300 hours observing and interviewing staff, patients and their families in a palliative care and an intensive care unit in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
"Staff who were able to use humour about things that were not offensive but funny, were able to neutralise the indignities and take away some stigma," she explained.
Dean became interested in the role humor plays in hospitals after noticing that there was less laughter in palliative care wards for terminally ill patients than in other wards.
Jokes and humorous remarks from patients also gave caregivers clues about underlying patient concerns, according to the study.
Humour also helped build collegial relationships among the heathcare team.
"When the team joked together, it was as equals - it helped to relieve tension," Dean said, adding that the findings are important for developing guidelines and strategies for enhancing humanity in hospital care.
"A super-important thing is that humour should really be used sensitively," she added. "You need to take your cue from patients and family on whether it is appreciated." – (Julie Mollins/Reuters Health)