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Mental capacity

If you have mental capacity it means that you are able to make your own decisions. The legal definition says that someone who lacks capacity cannot do one or more of the following four things:

  • understand the information given to them
  • retain that information long enough to be able to make a decision
  • weigh up the information available to make a decision
  • communicate their decision

We all have problems making decisions from time to time, but the Mental Capacity Act is about more than that. It is specifically designed to cover situations where someone is unable to make a decision because the way their mind or brain works is affected, for instance by illness or disability or the effects of drugs and alcohol.

    A lack of mental capacity could be due to:
  • a stroke or brain injury
  • a mental health problem
  • dementia
  • a learning disability
  • confusion, drowsiness or unconsciousness because of an illness or the treatment for it
  • substance misuse

In any of these instances a person may lack mental capacity to make particular decisions at a time. It does not necessarily mean they lack mental capacity to make any decisions at all.

For example, a person with a learning disability may lack the capacity to make major decisions but this does not necessarily mean that they cannot decide what to eat, wear and do each day. A person with mental health problems may be unable to make decisions when they are unwell, but able to make them when they are well.

If a person lacks mental capacity to make a particular decision then it will need to be made in their 'best interests', taking into account the persons wishes, feelings, beliefs and values.