Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology
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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 34-39

Capacity issues and decision-making in dementia

1 Nightingales Centre for Ageing and Alzheimer's, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Department of Neurology, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Correspondence Address:
Ratnavalli Ellajosyula
Department of Neurology, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru - 560 017, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-2327.192890

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Capacity to make one's own decisions is fundamental to the autonomy of the individual. Capacity is a functional assessment made by a clinician to determine if a patient is capable of making a specific decision. Competency is a global assessment and legal determination made by a judge in court. Capacity evaluation for a patient with dementia is used to determine whether the patient is capable of giving informed consent, participate in research, manage their finances, live independently, make a will, and have ability to drive. Patients with dementia cannot be assumed to have impaired capacity. Even a patient with moderate or severe dementia, with obviously impaired capacity may still be able to indicate a choice and show some understanding. Four key components of decision-making in a capacity evaluation include understanding, communicating a choice, appreciation, and reasoning. Assessment of capacity requires a direct interview with the patient using open-ended questions and may include both informal and formal approaches depending on the situation and the context. A baseline cognitive evaluation with a simple test to assess executive function is often useful in capacity evaluation. All capacity evaluations are situation specific, relating to the particular decision under consideration, and are not global in scope. The clinician needs to spend adequate time with the patient and the family allaying their anxieties and also consider the sociocultural context. The area of capacity has considerable overlap with law and the clinician treating patients with dementia should understand the complexities of assessment and the implications of impaired capacity. It is also essential that the clinician be well informed and keep meticulous records. It is crucial to strike a balance between respecting the patient autonomy and acting in his/her best interest.

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