What is an Advance Directive?
None of us, but especially seniors, is immune to serious illness or injury. When these conditions are so severe that death is imminent, it is important that doctors, family, and friends know your wishes in those situations. One way to share your wishes is through an advance directive.
Advance directives are a legally binding document that expresses your wishes in the event of serious illness or injury. These documents can be quite detailed or quite general. One detail is what you want done in each specific medical possibility. For example:
- What do you want done if you stop breathing?
- What do you want done if you develop inoperable cancer? What about tumors?
- Do you want breathing machines or feeding tubes used?
These documents empower someone to make decisions about your medical care if you are unable to make these decisions yourself.
It makes sense to speak with the people you appoint. Let them know your wishes. Only appoint people who are willing to accept the responsibility of making medical decisions for you when are no longer able to make them for yourself. Also be sure and discuss your wishes with those close to you such as your family or friends.
Such documents must follow the laws in your state in order to be legally binding. It is best to have one or two people witness and sign the document. In order for these documents to be effective, your doctor and hospital must have copies.
Do I Need One?
It is important for senior citizens to prepare these documents. However, any of us at any age may encounter a life threatening illness or injury. If you have strong feelings about what you want done in these situations, you need to have these wishes written down in a legally binding document.
What is a Living Will?
A living will is a type of advance directive. It is a document outlining explicit instructions regarding medical treatment and life-sustaining procedures if you are permanently unconscious or terminally ill. Usually, a doctor (or even two) will have to certify that you are in either of these states before the living will comes into effect. Since modern medicine now has the ability to prolong life indefinitely, it is necessary to prepare a living will when you are still healthy in body and mind.
What is a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care?
A durable power of attorney for health care names someone to manage your health care and make all medical treatment decisions for you when you are not able to. This person is usually called a “healthcare proxy” or a healthcare agent.”
Your chosen representative can make decisions such as consenting or refusing treatment, choosing doctors, selecting medical care facilities, and accessing medical records. This durable power of attorney usually does not give explicit instructions to the healthcare agent. This is another reason why it’s important to have an advance directive that provides this person with your wishes.
What is a Do Not Resuscitate Order?
Do not resuscitate orders or DNRs tell doctors and hospitals what you want done should your breathing or heart stop functioning. Examples of treatment that you can decline include CPR, artificial respiration, medicine to keep your heart functioning, artificial nutrition, or specific surgeries.
If you fill out a DNR, your doctor should put the order in your medical records. Without a DNR order, hospitals will typically do what they can to resuscitate someone whose heart has stopped. DNR orders are especially important for seniors with a heart condition.
Resources for Preparing an Advance Directive
Sometimes your medical facility will have these forms on hand for you to express your wishes. You will sign the document and have it witnessed right there in the hospital, long term care facility, or doctor’s office. The doctors and nurses caring for you want to make sure that your decisions are honored.
Another option is to contact your state bar association or state government office for the proper forms.
You can also hire an attorney who is knowledgeable in health care directives. Working with an attorney helps ensure that your directive meets the state legal requirements. It does no good to prepare a health care directive if it is not legally recognized.
Another option for obtaining a health care directive is purchasing software that allows you to fill in your information and print the document. By searching online you can find online services that will guide you through preparing the directive.
It may be unpleasant to think of serious illness and death. Detailing your wishes in advance will relieve some stress from you and your family in these situations.