Healthy adults may give little thought to injuries or illnesses. When the going is good, it is easy to forget about the less pleasant side effects of aging. However, putting off these conversations and decisions can lead to unnecessary obstacles in the years to come.
Advanced healthcare directives can be invaluable resources for family members and friends who will be responsible for managing a person's plans should they become unable to make their own decisions. Various organizations, including AARP, offer resources on advanced planning and the options available to adults looking to plan their estates.
The National Healthcare Decisions Day movement, a group dedicated to providing clear, concise and consistent information on healthcare decision-making, defines advanced directives as establishing:
• a "healthcare power of attorney" (or "proxy" or "agent" or "surrogate"), or the person you select to be your voice for your healthcare decisions if you cannot speak for yourself.
• a "living will" to document which medical treatments you would or would not want at the end of life.
While these are decisions that people often put off, it's important to make them as early as possible. Not only will they dictate your wishes, they'll take the pressure off of loved ones who would otherwise be tasked with making difficult decisions on their own.
Appointing a healthcare proxy ensures that there will be someone there who has the legal authority to make healthcare decisions for you if you are no longer able to speak for yourself. This may be a spouse, child, relative, or close friend. The Mayo Clinic suggests choosing a person who can be trusted to make decisions that adhere to your wishes and values and to be your advocate if there are disagreements about your care.
Be sure to have a candid discussion with your healthcare proxy in which you go over the types of medical care you wish to receive and any ways you would or would not like your life prolonged. It helps to keep the proxy up-to-date on any medical conditions you may have so that he or she can make the most informed decisions on your behalf.
Having a healthcare proxy does not mean you are giving up your right to make medical decisions. It's a fail-safe in the event you are unconscious or cannot direct medical care.
An advanced healthcare directive enables you to create specific written instructions for future health care, known as a living will. The living will should include wishes regarding life-sustaining medical treatments and resuscitation if you are no longer able to speak on your own behalf. It also can spell out whether you want to remain in a hospital or receive palliative care at home for a terminal illness. A living will can be changed if/when your wishes or circumstances change.
Legal and medical advice
Although legal advice is not required for an advanced directive, it can be helpful to iron out the legalities of your directives.
Speak with your doctor about your desires and needs. A physician can help you form a coherent directive that is in line with your wishes.
Remember, an advanced directive is not reserved for the elderly. Any consenting adult age 18 or older can benefit from a living will and other documentation.