The Capacity to be an Expert: Considerations of decision-making assessment for geriatric psychiatrists

The Capacity to be an Expert: Considerations of decision-making assessment for geriatric psychiatrists
Greg Sullivan, Greg Lannuzzi, Joel Kamper
The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, April 2022; 30(4) pp S13-S14
   Obtaining valid consent for treatment is predicated on a patient’s ability to make an informed decision, and capacity decisions involve a balance between respecting patients’ autonomy with protecting those with cognitive (and other) impairments. Given the importance of informed consent and the low rates with which clinical teams identify incapacity, it is critically important for geriatric mental health providers to competently identify and evaluate patients with capacity concerns. This need is particularly acute for complex cases, where the presence of medical and cognitive comorbidities can make capacity determination challenging.
Furthermore, while statutes often provide physicians with a legal means for civil commitment of patients lacking decisionmaking capacity, these mechanisms typically mandate the presence of a contributory mental illness. However not all conditions which affect medical decision-making capacity are psychiatric. Hospitalized medically ill patients frequently request discharge prior to being medically appropriate to do so, placing themselves at risk. To proceed with discharge respects a patient’s right to autonomy at the expense of patient safety and provider liability. To detain the patient against their wishes may be medically justifiable, but can be detrimental. State statutes provide little guidance about how to proceed in this situation, and geriatric providers should be aware of the pertinent legal and practical considerations for clinicians facing this arduous decision.
An additional challenge to geriatric mental health involves sexual decision-making and questions of incapacity. Supporting the need for intimacy remains a vital element of long-term care, and great responsibility rests upon the care team to ensure that autonomy, the right to sexual expression, and freedom of intimacy are allowed. However while these principles must be respected, they may present unique challenges in settings where one or more of the participants are diagnosed with a neurocognitive disorder and in long-term care settings. In these instances the traditional elements of informed consent required to demonstrate decision-making capacity must be expanded and adapted.

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