Mental capacity

Having mental capacity means a person is able to make their own decisions. If you’re unable to make your own decisions at some point in the future – such as if you have advanced dementia or are unconscious – someone else will need to do so for you.

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Do they have mental capacity?

Taking time to understand or communicate may be mistaken for a lack of mental capacity, but having dementia for example, does not necessarily mean that someone is unable to make any decisions themselves.

Where someone is having difficulty communicating a decision, an attempt should always be made to overcome those difficulties and help the person decide for themselves.

You aren't able to stamp a label on someone that you assume has no mental capacity and you should always try to make sure that the person(s) speaks to a professional (such as a doctor) to confirm whether they need extra support and to see if that person can actually make their own decisions.

You also need to make sure that you are listening and being considerate of what that person wants also if they are able to communicate - this is why it is very important to highlight that you need to pick someone that you trust and someone that you believe will make the best decisions with regards to your circumstance.

Examples of people who may lack capacity

There are multiple illnesses that can be considered as lack of mental capacity, below are some examples of where someone may need some extra support with their decisions.

  • Dementia
  • A severe learning difficulty
  • Brain injury
  • Mental health conditions
  • A stroke
  • Sudden or occurring unconsciousness

Mental capacity act

  • Everyone has the right to make his or her own decisions. Health and care professionals should always assume an individual has the capacity to make a decision themselves, unless it is proved otherwise through a capacity assessment.
  • Individuals must be given help to make a decision themselves. This might include, for example, providing the person with information in a format that is easier for them to understand.
  • Just because someone makes what those caring for them consider to be an "unwise" decision, they should not be treated as lacking the capacity to make that decision. Everyone has the right to make their own life choices, where they have the capacity to do so.
  • Where someone is judged not to have the capacity to make a specific decision (following a capacity assessment), that decision can be taken for them, but it must be in their best interests
  • Treatment and care provided to someone who lacks capacity should be the least restrictive of their basic rights and freedoms possible, while still providing the required treatment and care.