What is diminished capacity?

How to ensure vulnerable Queenslanders are protected

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you lost the ability to make sound financial decisions, or how you’d protect yourself in this situation? 

RACQ’s Financial Wellbeing team interviewed a Senior Investigations Officer Mark Philips from the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) to clarify what impaired decision making capacity means, how it could impact you, and how to protect yourself. 

What is decision making capacity and how can it be impaired?

Capacity is defined, by the Guardianship and Administration Act 2000, as the ability to understand the nature and effect of decisions about a matter; freely and voluntarily make decisions about the matter; and, communicate the decisions in some way. All three of these criteria must be met for an adult to have the capacity to make the decision.

A range of factors and conditions can cause a lack of capacity, such as an intellectual or psychiatric disability, an acquired brain injury, or a cognitive impairment such as dementia. 

If someone is assessed as having ‘impaired decision making capacity’, is it permanent?

Not necessarily. For example, if someone is unconscious due to an illness or accident, they would be considered to have lost decision making capacity. But, if they wake up, they may be able to make decisions freely and voluntarily again. Decision making capacity can also fluctuate over time, so should never be assumed based on past ability. 

It’s also important to understand that someone can have the capacity to make some decisions, but not others. So, for example, they might be able make simple decisions about what to buy for dinner, but not more complex decisions such as whether to invest money.

I think my family member is losing their decision making capacity; they’ve made some really poor decisions lately – how can I get help?

It can’t be assumed that someone has impaired decision making capacity just because they’ve made a decision that others don’t agree with. Just like we can’t assume, or judge capacity based on a person’s appearance, age or any physical or intellectual impairment they may have, we also can’t determine capacity based on whether their decision is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. 

If you are concerned, we recommend the adult is assessed by a GP or geriatrician to determine capacity. The OPG can’t determine if an adult has capacity, our role is to investigate reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of people with impaired decision making capacity.  

I think I, or someone I know, may have impaired decision making capacity and being influenced to make decisions against my/their free will. What do I do now? 

A good first step is to reach out to the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit via their Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 651 192. From here, you will be supported to know what steps you can take to ensure you or the person in question is best protected. There are many community groups and organisations set up to help you and your loved ones in tough situations like this, please reach out for help.

Additionally, If you, or the person in question, does have impaired decision making capacity and the behaviour in question is abuse (including financial abuse) , exploitation  or neglect you can contact the Office of the Public Guardian directly to see if we can investigate.