What is Mental Capacity?

I was recently asked a question by a family member “what actually is capacity? and how do I know if my mum has it or not, is it physical, is it mental or is it finances?”

This is a very good question because mental capacity seems to be talked about a lot but can be difficult to understand for some. 

We saw an old lady shopping in Lidl the other day and she was with her two younger relatives, she asked lots of questions about the food and where things were in the shop, she seemed a little confused. My partner asked me if whether she had ‘the capacity’ to do that shopping, or was her relatives being a little over protective or helping her a little too much.

I explained when asking the question whether someone has the mental capacity or not, the question has to be decision specific. For instance, we cannot assume that the confused old lady in the shop lacks the mental capacity to do everything. Or the lady who now resides in a care home due to dementia lacks the capacity to do everything. 

Decision specific means, asking the question regarding a specific issues, such as managing her finances, or having enough money to go shopping with. Or whether the lady with dementia understands to consequences of going out alone  and how to maintain her own safety.

Every assessment of mental capacity has to be decision specific.

But first the Mental Capacity Act says a person must have a disturbance or impairment that affects their ability to make a decision.

Next it is really important to assess whether someone understands information, relevant to that specific decision. Such as understanding the value of money, or how to cross roads safely, or understands the effects of not taking a prescribed medication.

The person must also demonstrate they can retain or remember relevant information for long enough to make a decision. 

The individual must also demonstrate that they can communicate their decision, and every help should be given to support that communication.

I always aim to support an individual to make as many decisions as possible, but when I am being asked to assess capacity, I always follow the Mental Capacity Act Code of Conduct. And ensure that the assessment is thorough, person centred and timely.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me on 07734 393918 or email victoria@gaincapacityexperts.co.uk