On the 19th February 2019, Dr Ben Hicks from the Psychology Department and the Ageing and Dementia Research Centre (ADRC), was fortunate to be invited to present two one hour workshops at the Mental Capacity Act Conference in Dorchester. This is the largest conference for social workers and was attended by around 500 delegates. The conference focussed on assessing capacity in individuals and through a range of presentations by judges and lawyers, sort to outline the many challenges that can be faced whilst undertaking this work. Of particular interest, was a Keynote speech by Alex Ruck Keene, a lawyer based in London that specialises in mental capacity and mental health law. He discussed the many ground-breaking cases he has been involved in regarding the Mental Capacity Act and the multiple publications he has authored that have influenced this area of practice. His passion for, and knowledge of the subject was clearly evident, and it is safe to say that the audience could have listened to him for well beyond his allotted hour and a half timeslot.
Whilst the majority of the conference was concerned with assessing capacity in individuals, Ben took a slightly different angle with his workshops and sought to demonstrate how the ADRC enable people with dementia to have the capacity to contribute to research. This includes: positioning them as experts and eliciting their views at all stages of project development; creating safe spaces where they feel comfortable expressing themselves; and adopting flexible research methods that have a ‘moral sensitivity’ to their capabilities and interests. Ben also outlined the multiple ways whereby society constructs barriers that socially exclude people with dementia and prevent their participation in research and wider society, as well as the work that the ADRC are undertaking to address this. One such method is through a Virtual Reality training program that provides participants with an immersive experience of what it may be like to live with the condition. This innovative approach was well received and a number of the workshop delegates have already approached Ben to enquire about delivering the training within their workplace. This highlights the great work that the ADRC are undertaking to empower people with dementia and provide innovative training to healthcare professionals that emphasises the rights and capacity this population has for contributing throughout society. As one delegate wrote during the evaluation feedback:
“More from Dr Ben Hicks and Bournemouth Uni. He gave an interesting presentation on ageing and dementia research and talked about the responsibilities both himself and his colleagues have undertaken in regards to this. I would be interested to hear more from them.”