Assessing Mental Competency in the Elderly

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



This chapter examines various definitions of mental competence in the elderly and evaluates their advantages and limitations. The chapter presents an overview of diseases/disorders and the consequences of the normal aging process that can affect mental competence in order to provide a context in which questions of competence emerge and to forge a pathway for conceptualizing the assessment process. It also presents specific recommendations for the assessment process and reviews commonly used assessment methods. Legal definitions of competency have a critical role in assessing suspects' ability to waive any of their legal rights. Federal courts in the United States require that defendants have a basic understanding of interrogation rights as opposed to an appreciation of the consequences of waiving these rights. Most definitions of competence include multiple criteria and refer to a condition that is causing mental impairment. The Multidimensional Functional Assessment of Older Adults is designed to assess competency using a multi-component approach. This assessment battery utilizes the OARS Multidimensional Functional Assessment Questionnaire (OMFAQ) and a questionnaire administered in an interview format to examine functioning in specific areas relevant to competence. The chapter concludes with a discussion of ethical issues in research and health care with cognitively impaired persons.



Publication Title

Handbook of Forensic Psychology: Resource for Mental Health and Legal Professionals