The concept of mental capacity

Understanding the information

Professionals need to identify the specific decisions to be made, identify the relevant information the person needs to make the decision, and identify what the available options to the person are.

The individual doesn’t have to understand everything regarding what is being explained to them. They do have to be able to understand the specific factors relevant to this decision. Options need to be sufficiently detailed so that capacity can be fairly assessed and should not be given in the abstract. If the option is between staying at home or going into residential care the person needs to be given information about what either option would look like. The ability to understand extends to understanding the reasonably foreseeable consequences of reaching a decision or failing to do so.

Retaining the information

It is important to remember that capacity is the ability to make a decision at a specific time. If information is remembered long enough for the person to be able to make the decision, it does not matter if they cannot remember the information for a longer period.

Using or weighing the information

Using or weighing the information refers to the ability to engage in the decision-making process itself and to be able to see the various parts of the argument and to relate the one to another. The person only needs to be able to use and weigh the relevant information; they have capacity if they can use or weigh sufficient information but not all of it. Be careful not to equate an irrational decision with an incapacitated one. If the person does not agree with professional advice, it does not automatically mean that they cannot make the decision.