That American Psychological Association has some informative handbooks (one for lawyers, one for judges and one for psychologists) to help you assess capacity in older adults. For lawyers this is a great tool to help determine whether a person has capacity to execute documents such as Wills, Powers of Attorney, Revocation of Power of Attorney, etc. It is also very useful to determine whether a guardianship (full or limited) is appropriate.
In my work with guardianships and conservatorship in Minnesota, I’ve had experience with people who are subject to guardianships for a variety of different reasons: Down’s Syndrome, dementia, alzheimers, traumatic brain injury, physicial and sexual abuse so severe that it was debilitating, etc. Really, there are no two guardianship situations that are exactly alike. People need guardians for different reasons. People need different levels of guardianship. When a guardianship is imposed, it takes away a lot of individual freedoms and rights. Persons under guardianship can no longer do many of the things they used to be able to do themselves. They can’t contract (for the most part). They can’t make their own decision about medical care. They can’t make their own decision on where to live.
But one thing they can still do is tell their stories. Whether I’ve been representing the ward, the petitioner or the guardian, I’ve found it to be true that most of the people under guardianship love to talk about their past. About their family. About growing up. About their former jobs. About what their life was like. What is perhaps a bit surprising is that oftentimes they tell their stories quite accurately, despite having impairments that cause their short term or day-to-day functioning to be impaired. Hearing the stories of these people is one of my favorite things about my job. It is a joy to see the faces of individuals that are under a guardianship light up when they talk about their past.
I encourage friends and family members of individuals under a guardianship to sit down with their loved one and get them to share their stories. You will not only make their day, but I guarantee you will also learn something new about your loved one. And if you are lucky you will walk away from your conversation having learned a valuable life lesson as well. As a ward once told me, “The most important thing my grandfather taught me was to listen and pay attention, because you are never too old to learn.”