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Assessing someone's mental capacity: How to do it, why it matters

It is undoubtedly upsetting to watch the health of someone you love decline. Often, loved ones try to stay positive, and they may not be capable of accurately assessing the extent of a person’s condition. In some cases, friends and family may not have enough contact with the person to know how he or she is doing.

As such, people can miss evidence that the person is experiencing mental decline or incapacity that could make them unable to make decisions regarding their care. In these situations, assessing his or her capacity can be crucial.

Assessing capacity

Conducting an assessment of incapacity is complicated. It requires more than anecdotal evidence or a medical diagnosis. In fact, there are numerous tests and screening tools that can assess a person’s decision-making processes, orientation, memory, perception, and emotionality.

The exact approach for a specific assessment will depend on the capabilities in question. For instance, some tests measure a person’s ability to understand banking information, while others examine living skills and recall.

There is no standard test a person can take, and the results are far more complicated than simply passing or failing.

As such, professionals should conduct assessments.

Why it matters

People may not see the need for an assessment of a person’s capacity if there is a medical diagnosis, or they know their loved one is experiencing mental decline.

However, establishing incapacity through an assessment can be critical in many scenarios, including:

  • Making emergency medical decisions
  • Buying or selling property (or completing any financial transaction)
  • Signing a contract
  • Creating or changing a will

If a person is deemed mentally incapacitated, other measures can be put in place to protect him or her. Examples of these incapacity planning documents include powers of attorney and representation agreements.

These tools and a declaration of incapacity can prevent a person from missteps like completing uninformed banking transactions or entering a contract he or she does not understand.

It can be devastating to see a loved one struggle and become incapacitated. However, concerned friends or family can act on that person’s behalf and pursue an assessment as a protective measure.

Doing so could preserve a loved one’s well-being, quality of life and legacy.

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