Humour therapy pioneer Jean-Paul Bell has been named a finalist for 2015 NSW Senior Australian of the Year and joked that as a man aged in his sixties working with centenarians, he should be in the “young Australian” category.
Mr Bell is creative director and co-founder of the Arts Health Institute, which developed humour therapy program Play Up and singing program Sing Out Loud for aged care as part of its drive to improve lives through the arts in health and aged care settings.
He said he was surprised when he heard the news and delighted to be associated with such committed passionate people doing great work.
“It is funny when you talk about being nominated for a senior Australian award and you’re a mere 63-year-old working with 90- to 100-year-olds,” Mr Bell told Australian Ageing Agenda. “Shouldn’t it be a young Australian of the year?”
The professional actor and comedian of 45 years also created the Humour Foundation and Clown Doctor program in 1996 to introduce humour therapy into Australian children’s hospital.
He has taken his comedy and performance to war-torn countries including Afghanistan and Timor-Leste and to more than a million school children over decades of school touring.
Mr Bell said he hoped the nomination would highlight the work the Arts Health Institute and others were doing to change the way care was delivered. He said:
“A lot of organisations are looking at the way we can make it more personable, make it more life embracing instead of that institutional standard of where you basically park until you leave. There are so many different groups these days who are committed to making life better for our elders in care both in nursing homes and at home.”
Mr Bell said there was much more to do, not only in aged care, but in healthcare generally.
“Whether that is hospitals or working with people with disability, mental disability as well as physical, I just think the more connection, the better it is for human kind.”
Another well-known sector representative, Alzheimer’s Australia CEO and dementia advocate Glenn Rees, has been named a finalist for the ACT’s Senior Australian of the Year for his dedication to supporting people with dementia and reducing the stigma attached to it.
Mr Bell and Mr Rees are among 137 Australians being recognised as state and territory finalists in the 2015 Australian of the Year Awards, which comprise Australian, senior Australian, young Australian, and local hero categories.
The NSW award recipients will be announced on 10 November 2014 and will then join the other state and territory winners to become finalists for the National Awards taking place in Canberra on 25 January 2015.