Objectives Elderly patients are legally assumed to be competent to give consent to medical treatment. When patients are unable to make a decision on assenting or refusing treatment; if they cannot understand and remember the information provided, and⁄or cannot use that information when considering their decision, the decision- making capacity of the patient should be evaluated with specific clinical tools, since consent obtained from an incompetent patient is invalid. The clinical tool should be simple and easy to use, be replicable, and should require a short administration time and, possibly, no formal training.
Materials and methods We have considered frequently used clinical screening methods for cognitive impairment, such as the MacArthur Competence Assessment Tool for Treatment (Mac-CAT-T), the Aid to Capacity Evaluation (ACE) and the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE), to evaluate the decision-making capacity of the patient.
Results The MMSE is a very simple bedside clinical tool, does not require specific training, takes less than 10 minutes to complete, is objective and uses scores indicating decreasing cognitive function. The scores range from 0 to 30: a MMSE score of 0 to 17 increases the likelihood of lack of capacity, a score of 18 to 23 indicates mild cognitive impairment, while a score of 24 to 30 significantly reduces the likelihood of incapacity.
Conclusions The Mini Mental State Examination can be considered the clinical tool more suitable for the physician in the daily practice. In patients with a low MMSE score, suggesting likelihood of lack of capacity, it will be necessary that the consent to medical procedures be granted by a surrogate decision maker, according to the laws and jurisdiction of the country involved.
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