Keep key people informed. Once you have prepared an advance healthcare directive, it is wise to share the contents with all the people who may be involved in your medical care. Talk with your loved ones, friends, clergy, and physicians about the decisions you have made. By discussing your wishes, you will retain a sense of control even when you are unable to speak for yourself. If your loved ones are aware of your wishes in advance, it will be far easier and less draining for them to manage during a very difficult and trying time.
Identify yourself as having an advance directive. Any time you are admitted to a hospital, you will be asked if you have an advance directive. If you know you will be admitted to a hospital, bring a copy of your document with you. Some people choose to carry a card in their wallet indicating that they have an advance directive. You can make your own wallet card or download one to fill out by visiting the following sites:.
Safeguard the original. The original of an advance directive document should be kept in a secure place that is easy to remember, easy to access, and known by the important people in your life. Remember, a situation may come up when you are in a medical condition that does not allow you to share the location. You may want to make additional copies of your documents to give to those people who will become your decision makers if it becomes necessary.
A living will is a document that allows you to put down in writing your wishes about the types of medical treatment you want or do not want in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself. It provides your loved ones and medical care providers with a blueprint of your specific desires regarding the use of life-saving interventions.
You have undoubtedly heard the term “advance healthcare directive,” but you may not understand exactly how it relates to you personally or the impact it can have on your future. The term refers to legal documents that allow you to make healthcare decisions in advance about your future medical care if you should ever become unable to speak for yourself. The documents allow you to express your own wishes and/or appoint someone you trust to make decisions for you according to your personal preferences.
Such documents include a “living will” and a “healthcare proxy,” also known as a “medical power of attorney.” (See sidebar) Because each state has its own guidelines and regulations regarding the use of advance healthcare directives and the provisions that must be included in the documents, it is important to know the specifics for your state.
A study published in the January 2014 edition of "The American Journal of Preventive Medicine" looked for the barriers that keep adults in the United States from completing an advance healthcare directive. Of the more than 7,900 respondents to a survey, only 26.3 percent had an advance directive. Lack of awareness was the most common reason provided for not having completed an advance directive.
Advance healthcare directive documents are available through most physicians, hospitals, community senior centers/area agencies on aging, or state health departments. Remember, we all have the right to make decisions about our own health and medical care. Make sure to take advantage of that right.
The American Hospital Association
National Institute on Aging
Think first. When getting ready to prepare your own living will or healthcare proxy, take the time to really think about what you would want in specific health scenarios. For example… if your body could not function on its own, would you want life-sustaining measures to be taken even if they would not improve your condition? Perhaps your answer is yes, perhaps it is no. The decision is a very personal choice, but it is one you may want to make perfectly clear to those who will be making decisions if you are unable to do so.
A healthcare proxy (or medical power of attorney) is a document that allows you to appoint an individual you trust to make decisions about your medical care in situations when you are unable to voice your wishes. Not only will your agent be granted the power to make decisions on your behalf regarding life-prolonging treatments if you are unable to make them, he/she also will be able to do so if you become temporarily incapacitated and can’t speak for yourself.