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If someone has mental capacity it means that they are able to understand information and retain it long enough to make a decision about a particular issue.

Having mental capacity does not necessarily mean that they make decisions you agree with – or even decisions that are best for them – but they are entitled to make that decision.

Someone might lose their mental capacity because of advanced dementia, severe learning disabilities or a head injury.

You should never assume the person you are looking after lacks capacity because of their age, appearance, behaviour or disability – or because you disagree with their decisions.

Caring for someone who still has mental capacity

As someone’s carer you should not assume you can make decisions on their behalf.

The person you are looking after is considered to have capacity to make their own decisions – with help or advocacy – unless it is concluded otherwise.

They might communicate these decisions in various ways, including writing it down, using sign language or pictures. They might even use simple muscle movements like squeezing a hand or blinking.

Caring for someone who is likely to lose their mental capacity

If you are caring for someone with dementia, you both know that they are likely to lose their capacity to make decisions at some point in the future.

Talk to them about setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney to let you make decisions on their behalf. There are two types and you must register them while the person you look after still has capacity. Registration takes about six weeks.

Caring for someone who lacks mental capacity

If the person you are looking after already lacks mental capacity you cannot apply for Lasting Power of Attorney.  

Instead, you need to apply to the Court of Protection to be their deputy.

Decisions taken on behalf of people who lack capacity must always be in their best interests.

Direct Payments

If you are caring for a person who is receiving direct payments and lacks mental capacity then you may be asked to manage their direct payments for them.