Meet our PhDs: Dr Tierney’s Own Meaningful Activities

Published on: September 29, 2020

Dr Laura Tierney completed her PhD examining meaningful activity for older adults with dementia. Her research proposed a conceptual model for understanding “meaningful activity” and a person-centred approach to care that respects individuality, focuses on individuals’ strengths rather than impairments and empowers individual decision-making.

“I worked as a research assistant for many years across lots of projects related to quality of life and quality of care for people living with dementia. That, combined with a personal experience drew me to the idea of exploring meaningful activity.”

Dr Tierney was always close to her great-grandmother growing up. She lived at home on her own until she had a fall when she was 100 and had to move into a Residential Aged Care Facility (RACF).

“One memory from that time that has stuck with me is her saying that she just wanted to go home and peel a potato. The abrupt end to doing those everyday tasks was so hard for her. After spending time with other RACF residents through my work and hearing similar comments and stories it got me thinking: what was it about peeling a potato that was so important to her?”

There was no defining moment that led Laura to pursue a PhD in the field but her connection with Professor Beattie and Dr Fielding meant that QUT was an obvious home for her research.

Dr Tierney completed her PhD prior to COVID but her PhD study served her well to transition to working from home.

Dr Tierney bushwalking
Dr Tierney’s own meaningful activities take her outdoors and into the bush.

“For activities to be meaningful it is important that they have a social aspect. In these times of distancing and isolation we need to be creative about how we can establish and maintain social connections through the activities we engage in.”

There is evidence to suggest that meaningful activities build protective behaviours against cognitive decline.

“When I have time, I enjoy reading a good book (for fun, not work!), going for a bushwalk or enjoying the outdoors.”

Dr Tierney’s current work focuses on two main areas; innovative, small-scale models of living for people with dementia and the mental health and wellbeing of the dementia care workforce

“Research is so important to share the experiences and voices of people living with dementia. The best thing about the research I do is that I get the opportunity to talk to so many wonderful people who participate in our studies. I’ve learnt so much from older adults who have life experiences and wisdom to share.  I’m so inspired by the compassion and kindness of those who support and care for people living with dementia.”

“My ultimate aim is to improve quality of life for people living with dementia and those who support them.”

Dr Laura Tierney completed her PhD with Professor Elizabeth Beattie, Dr Elaine Fielding, Dr Kathleen Doherty (University of Tasmania) and Margie MacAndrew (QUT).