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Planning Ahead for Tough Choices

Making health care decisions for later in life is never fun.
But it’s important to discuss your wishes with family and physicians.
This article will provide ideas on how to start.

You’ve heard the phrase “quality of life,” especially as it relates to health care issues late in life. There may come a time when you are unable to make decisions about immediate health care needs. When that happens, who makes those decisions for you, and how do they reach their conclusions?

It’s important to have conversations with family, friends and physicians about how (and if) you would like to receive medical care if you aren’t able to make those decisions for yourself. These types of orders are called advanced directives.

Advanced directives are legal documents that articulate the medical care a person wants should they become incapacitated or unable to speak for themselves. Advanced directives go into effect only when a person is in such a state.

There are several types of advanced directives:
+ Living will
+ Durable power of attorney for health care (DPAHC)
+ Do not resuscitate (DNR) order
+ Organ and tissue donation forms

A living will is a document that clearly describes for your health care providers the types of procedures that you would want, or not want, to be done and under what conditions. This document typically covers wishes pertaining to life-sustaining treatment.

A durable power of attorney for health care (DPAHC) allows you to name a person to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself. It’s important to designate someone you trust to uphold your wishes and manage your care as clearly outlined in your documents. It’s also a good idea to have orders or plans written for organ and tissue donation, dialysis, blood transfusions, and the treatment of your body after death.

Bring your family on board as soon as you have made your decisions, and then begin to involve your health care providers. Your physicians can give the best information for the use of life-sustaining measures and other types of treatments. Once the plans are made, the documents need to be completed and formalized. You can use a lawyer to help legitimize these documents, but it is not required.

Legal Matters

Consult your state laws to ensure proper planning and protection of your advanced directives, as the process for legal documentation varies by state. Some states are using forms such as the POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) or MOLST (Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment). These forms reflect recent changes in laws associated with advanced care planning.

Once your advanced care planning is finalized, it is important that your family knows how to access your documents and necessary forms. Many people will keep copies in their wallets or have the documents on file in their medical charts as well as with their other important documents.

Making these decisions ahead of time ultimately helps everyone. With proper planning and good communication, the quality of your life is assured.


For More Information

You can access information in your state and receive copies of advanced care planning forms through your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). To find an agency near you, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or go to www.Eldercare.govFor more information, contact:
Put It In Writing, American Hospital Association at 1-800-424-4301 (toll-free) or www.putitinwriting.org