Decision-making capacity evaluation in adult guardianship: a systematic review

Sally McSwiggan*, Susanne Meares, Melanie Porter

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: Evidence of impaired decision-making capacity is a legal requirement for adult guardianship. To understand the quality of the evidence health professionals commonly provide in reports submitted to guardianship courts, a systematic review was undertaken to appraise the design and methodological quality of the published literature on health professionals' written reports of decision-making capacity and to describe the content of these reports. Methods: Electronic searches from 1980 to 2015 identified 1183 articles of which 11 met the inclusion criteria where each evaluated quantitatively the content of health professionals' written reports submitted to adult guardianship proceedings. Methodological quality of the selected studies was rated using a critical appraisal tool. Results: Nine studies sourced files from courts in the U.S. and one from Sweden; another reported on guardianship decisions from Australia. Four studies were rated as moderately strong or strong. Strengths included the use of comparison groups and a reliable and valid instrument to code reports. The review showed a person's medical condition was often cited as evidence of impaired decision-making capacity. Cognitive, psychiatric and functional abilities were less often described, and a person's values and preferences were rarely recorded. Conclusions: It is recommended health professionals describe the process by which a person makes a particular decision (their ability to understand, appreciate, reason and communicate) in addition to providing medical information, including cognitive, psychiatric and functional abilities. This approach provides support for a professional's opinion and evidence for a court. International studies of health professionals' approach to decision-making capacity evaluation are needed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)373-384
    Number of pages12
    JournalInternational Psychogeriatrics
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


    • adult guardianship
    • competency
    • decision-making capacity
    • systematic review

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