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Caring for adults
Caring for adults

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1.2 Assessing mental capacity

When assessing someone’s mental capacity, in the first instance you should always presume a cared-for person has sufficient understanding or mental capacity to make decisions. Only when there is real doubt about the cared-for person’s capacity to make a decision in a particular situation should an assessment be made and, only after the assessment has concluded that the person lacks capacity, can decisions be made for them. Before deciding that someone lacks the capacity to understand information and make decisions, you should first establish if the person can be supported in making their own decisions.

Questions you could ask are:

  • Does the person have any mental impairment?
  • Are there any signs or symptoms of disability, illness or cognitive decline?

If yes, further questions are:

  • Should these issues be assessed and treated before lack of capacity is determined?
  • Does the impairment or disability prevent the person from making the decision? Being ill, disabled or mentally impaired does not automatically lead to a lack of mental capacity.

In many circumstances, such as everyday decisions, the carer might be the best person to answer these questions. However, for some decisions a person’s mental capacity needs to be assessed and this would be the responsibility of professionals such as a social worker or a doctor. In these circumstances, every effort to help the person to understand the information and to make a decision must be made before judging that the person can or cannot make their own decisions.