Contributed article from Justin King, appeared in The Forum September 2019

As we age, there are a number of occasions where we may need to check whether someone has still got the mental capacity to make a decision, whether that be for legal or medical reasons. Justin King, Chartered Financial Planner at award-winning retirement planners MFP Wealth Management, explains how, when and why mental capacity assessments are carried out.

When a mental capacity assessment is needed

Mental capacity is another way of saying a person’s ability to make a decision. You may want to ensure that your loved one really understands the consequences of the decisions they’re making – as assessment will help.

Remember that just because somebody’s got a diagnosis of dementia, it doesn’t automatically mean they can’t make a decision. There are two key elements to mental capacity; one is that it’s item specific, the other is it’s time specific.

The Mental Capacity Act clearly states that “We can’t expect everybody to know everything about everything.” As assessment, therefore, considers what the average man on the street would need to understand about the decision in question.

Is today a good day?

Done properly, a mental capacity assessment is just a gentle chat.

A good assessor will ask “Is today a good day?” The assessor’s job is to show the person at their best, whilst identifying areas where they might struggle and exploring with them how they might be supported to overcome those issues.

An assessor considers four key aspects:

  1. Someone’s ability to understand relevant information.
  2. Their ability to retain the information for the length of the decision-making process.
  3. Their ability to apply that information.
  4. Their ability to communicate the information back.

Remember, an assessment is always in relation to just one area of decision making, for example managing finances.

How to approach as assessment

The person being assessed is often vulnerable and an assessment can protect them and their future wishes. Try and identify the specific area that the person is struggling with then either approach a specialist firm or a solicitor who specialises in the Court of Protection.

Make sure the assessor meets them in a place they’re familiar with, because if you put someone who is already confused in an alien environment, it can confuse them further.

Ultimately, it’s really important that we see and understand the individual behind any diagnosis or impairment.

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