Tuesday 13 September 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Joan Webb – Tribute


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I do not believe that many people anywhere attain a PhD at the age of 90 but one of my constituents has done so.  Joan Webb is here in the Chamber today as my guest.

Members - Hear, hear.

Mr FINCH - Joan has worked for many years to make life better for those in aged care facilities and that, to put it simply, is what her PhD thesis is all about.  Her approach is mainly common sense but like many commonsense ideas they have not been widely recognised.  Joan Webb's revelation came when she conducted creative poetry and short prose sessions in two aged care homes for more than a year.  She maintains that even frail, aged people with poor sight, limited used of hands, and usually wheelchair-bound can be creative through the use of communal voice recorders.

She says that institutionalisation of high-care, frail, aged people caused feelings of powerlessness.  They sit, slightly unresponsive, looking to a nurse or a diversional therapist to tell them what to do.  Joan says they usually expected her to read to them, prose or poetry, but Joan says she expected them to write their own poetry.

She says that creative disciplines have remarkable results, with better health, less medication and more socialisation.  It is common sense but rarely practised.  Many aged care homes have a variety of activities such as filling in colouring books, listening to a pianist playing old songs, crosswords, playing cards and mystery bus trips but this is not personal creativity.  They help with dementia but are impossible for high-care, frail, aged residents.  They need creativity for mentally extending themselves beyond being merely entertained.  I argue that we will all benefit from that.
Joan Webb says that governments could save aged care money by:

  • understanding the meaning of creativity;

  • making creative poetry and prose part of the activity program in aged care;

  • providing training for paid staff and suitable volunteers to facilitate small groups of high-care residents in creative prose and poetry in all aged care facilities;

  • sustaining continuity so that residents feel empowered to take control of their group which should be no bigger than four to six residents; 

  • allowing a number of groups to operate in different venues within the same aged care facility at the same time;

  • allowing creative projects to become part of a publication, perhaps in the facility's magazine.
    Joan Webb strongly argues that the result would be a reduction in medication and depression and would save millions.  I know you have told me not to exaggerate a million times, Mr President, but certainly hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Her PhD thesis goes into great detail in researching and backing this argument.  As some of you know, a PhD thesis can be hard work for the layperson but this one, with its research and outcome-based common sense, is inspired reading.

One telling quote among many:

It is widely held there is an important relationship between the physical brain and human expressions of creativity.  My investigations and experience with my two creative writing groups concurred.  Factors that reduce creativity are lack of confidence, negative feedback and domination of existing dogma.  Using data from the creative writing groups and research beyond these experiences, factors were identified that affect outcomes from writing groups.  Action research underpinned the project beyond the confines of the room in an aged care facility to the capacity for growth in the frail aged where environmental, social and political circumstances permit.

We all know we are living in societies with growing numbers of older people.  We should listen hard when a 90-year-old's PhD thesis tells us about part of the solution to growing old gracefully.  I salute Joan Webb.

Members - Hear, hear.