Capacity assessment

A common scenario confronting health practitioners working with patients with cognitive impairment and dementia is the assessment of decision making capacity. The following represents a common situation:

You have been looking after Mrs Jones since she came to live with her daughter about six months ago. Her daughter reports that the specialist in Melbourne who saw her Mum just before she moved diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease and recommended that she organise an enduring power of attorney. With the move they have not had a chance to discuss options for appointing an enduring power of attorney. The daughter wants to know if her Mum has the capacity to make a decision about appointing an enduring power of attorney.

Every adult has the right to make decisions about their treatment and ongoing care but sometimes patients are unable to understand the choice they face or communicate their wishes. In these situations, you must know how to assess the patient’s mental capacity in line with your legal and ethical obligations.