What if you were suddenly struck with severe health problems that left you unable to communicate your wishes about your care? Would your loved ones know exactly what you want -- or don't want -- when it comes to the treatments and measures to preserve your life?
Who would you want to speak for you about your preferences if you were unable?
"Advance Directives" is a term used for the written instructions a person creates to convey their wishes regarding medical treatment if they're unable to express their decisions themselves.
"Writing down your Advance Directives is not only important for your own benefit, it's a tremendous gift to your family and friends," said Dr. Laura Patel, chief medical officer of Transitions LifeCare.
The directives often contain signed, witnessed and legally binding documents, including:
- Living Will, which instructs an attending physician to withhold or withdraw medical interventions if the patient has a terminal condition and is unable to speak.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, which assigns an agent to make healthcare decisions for the patient if they are not able.
- Do Not Resuscitate order, which instructs medical personnel to withhold treatments for revival if the patient’s heart stops beating or they stop breathing.
A gift for yourself and your family
Advance Directives can go beyond legal medical instructions, as well.
They can include the patient's wishes for just about anything they want their loved ones to know and follow. Patients may want to include desires such as hospice care if they develop a terminal condition, as well as which hospice provider they prefer.
"We see families who are more at peace with difficult decisions, because they know exactly what care their loved one wants," Patel said. "We see other families who struggle intensely with the burden of trying to guess their loved one's wishes and maybe even arguing over differences of opinion."
How to create your Advance Directives
- Have a conversation with your loved ones. As simple as it sounds, this step can be the most difficult for many people. According to The Conversation Project, 90 percent say talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, but only 27 percent have actually done so. If you need help in addressing this sensitive topic with your family, The Conversation Project offers an easy-to-use starter kit.
- Write down your directives. Whether you compose a letter to your loved ones or fill out legal documents, it's important to put your healthcare wishes in writing. Convenient tools for guiding you through this process are available online. One such document is Five Wishes -- a living will that addresses your personal, emotional and spiritual needs as well as your medical instructions.
- Share and store your written documents. After you've written your Advance Directives, review them with at least one family member and let them know where you keep them filed -- whether they're printed or electronic documents. You also may want to give copies to your attorney and primary care physician
This story was written for our sponsor, Transitions LifeCare.