5 Questions with Dr. Al Power
Our conference theme this year is “Living a full life is a risky business”.
Q1. Any thoughts you’d like to share on this topic as it relates to your work?
Meaningful life does involve risk…and so does meaningful work, particularly for all of us in the field of culture change. It takes a lot of courage to move out of our comfort zones and to challenge the status quo. We can help mininise the downside of risk by being well-informed, making a stepwise plan, collaborating with a wide group of involved people, and holding true to the values that we want to honour through our work.
Q2. Thinking about your own life, what has been the riskiest thing you’ve ever done & why?
Leaving a fairly comfortable position to challenge the use of antipsychotic drugs in dementia—when it was still standard practise in medicine to use them—was undoubtedly my riskiest career move. Throughout it, I held a deep belief that I was doing the right thing for the people I served; and in speaking up, I found many like-minded people who supported me and also helped show me the way. It has led me to the most satisfying part of my career to date. And I drew a lot of energy early on from my work with The Eden Alternative, who said that “it doesn’t have to be this way; it can be different.”
Q3. Thinking about your role as an expert in Dementia and Aging, what is the riskiest thing that we face as we all age?
I think the greatest risk is the erosion of our fundamental human rights due to stigmas and prejudices around ageing and dementia, because they create self-fulfilling prophecies that severely limit our potential for meaning and growth in later life, and even contribute to greater suffering (think Principle #1).
Q4. For people living with dementia, what is the riskiest thing for them to be able to function well
The riskiest thing falls on us, and that is to support the person to live life on her/his terms, as far as possible. That means understanding that many day-to-day decisions can and are being expressed even by people living with advanced cognitive change, including those who no longer use words. It also means understanding that there is no risk-free environment, and the stakes are higher for those who live with dementia, not lower. I encourage people to never ask themselves, “What is the risk of doing this?” without also asking, “What is the risk of not doing it?” The use of restraints, locked doors and antipsychotics arose from those who only asked the first question; adding the second question as well has led to new insights about whether we are helping or hurting people with our efforts.
Q5. Your keynote address at EdeninOzNz 2019 will be on “Don’t lock me up! Creating inclusive, living communities”. Please tell us a little about the topic you’ll be presenting and why it’s important.
For over 15 years, I have been arguing for inclusive communities. There are many reasons why, which I will spell out in detail in the keynote. But the bottom line is one of civil rights; there is no other group of people, outside of convicted felons, whom we don’t allow to live around the rest of us. I will not only make the arguments to end segregation, but will offer a roadmap to get people started in the safest and most successful way possible. I am very much looking forward to the conference and seeing all my good friends in Oz/NZ!!