What is the Mental Capacity Act?

If you're caring for someone with dementia you might, at some point, come across this act which is designed to protect and empower vulnerable people who are unable to make important decisions for themselves. These are the essential facts worth knowing

In a nutshell

Being free to make your own decisions (even if they're ones that other people don't approve of) is a fundamental human right and one which the law takes very seriously. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 might have a grim sounding name but it was put in place for good reasons.

It has two basic functions:
1. It tells people what to do and how they can do it if someone can’t make decisions on their own.
2. It spells out very carefully what the term ‘lacking capacity’ actually means so that it cannot be open to abuse.

What does the law say?

There are five key principles to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and as well as protecting people affected by dementia, it’s also designed to help those with brain tumours, strokes, severe depression, schizophrenia and learning disabilities.

1. Every adult has the right to make their own decisions if they have the capacity to do so. Family carers and healthcare or social care staff must assume that a person has the capacity to make decisions, unless it can be established that they don't.
2. People should receive support, and all possible steps should be taken, to help them make their own decisions.
3. People have the right to make decisions that others might think are unwise, and this should not automatically result in them being labelled as 'lacking capacity'.
4. Any act done for, or any decision made on behalf of, someone who lacks capacity must be in their best interests.
5. Any act done for, or any decision made on behalf of, someone who lacks capacity should be an option that is less restrictive of their basic rights and freedoms – as long as it is still in their best interests.

Do they lack capacity?

If the person you love cannot do any or all of the following it may be that they do, in the legal sense, 'lack capacity'.
- Understand information given to them.
- Retain information long enough to be able to make a decision.
- Weigh up the information available to make a decision.
- Communicate their decision.

Are you acting in their ‘best interests’

If you're caring for someone with dementia it's really important to be aware of what this term actually means
- The person who lacks capacity must be involved in decisions as much as possible.
- You must be aware of their wishes and feelings.
- You must also consult with other people involved in their care.
- You should not make any assumptions based on their age, appearance, condition or behaviour.
- You need to consider whether the person you're acting for is likely to regain capacity to make the decision in the future.

As part of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the government has also made special rules to make sure that people can be cared for or treated in way that is fair and right. These rules are called the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.