Imagine you’re in a hospital and you can’t speak. You slip into a coma. Soon you won’t be able to swallow or breathe. Who will speak for you?
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day, a time to raise awareness about the importance of advance care plans. This year’s theme is “It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late.”
Sometimes called an advance directive or living will, an advance care plan is a way to plan ahead for your medical care in case you cannot make your wishes known. Without planning ahead, family members may not know what you want or whether they are “doing the right thing” on your behalf. A lack of planning also has personal and economic consequences.
An advance directive is a legal document that goes into effect only if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. This could be the result of disease or severe injury—no matter how old you are. It helps others know what type of medical care you want. You can adjust an advance directive as your situation changes because of new information or a change in your health.
Advance directives come in two main forms:
Advance care planning:
AARP’s Inside E Street: End of Life (Nathan Kottkamp, National Healthcare Decisions Day)
More than one out of four older Americans face questions about medical treatment near the end of life but are not capable of making those decisions. This tip sheet will discuss some questions you can think about now and describe ways to share your wishes with others.
It can be overwhelming to be asked to make health care decisions for someone who is dying and no longer able to make his or her own decisions. It is even more difficult if there is no written or even verbal guidance. How would your family decide what type of care is right for you? Even when you have written documents, some decisions still might not be clear.
The simplest, but not always the easiest, way is to talk about end-of-life care before an illness. Discussing your thoughts, values, and desires will help people who are close to you to know what end-of-life care you want. Discuss how you feel about using life-prolonging measures or where/how you would like to be cared for. One way to bring up the topic is to let your family know that you have made a will (or updated an existing one). Your doctor should be told about these wishes as well. As hard as it might be for your family to talk about your end-of-life wishes, knowing your preferences ahead of time can make decision making easier for them. It will also give you peace of mind knowing that your family can choose what you want.
In this day of the Internet of Things, there are now excellent online resources available to help make, discuss and document future healthcare wishes and decisions.
MyDirectives, a service of ADVault, Inc., is a free online platform that allows consumers to digitize their voices and treatment priorities in a comprehensive legal advance care plan that is secure in the cloud and available 24/7 anywhere in the world to you, your loved ones and your medical providers.The new MyDirectives MOBILE App (a download available on Apple’s App Store) makes users’ emergency advance care plans accessible even when their iPhones are locked.
Making Your Wishes Known
Making Your Wishes Known is an evidence-based, multimedia, online tool for advance care planning. It provides tailored education about common medical conditions that can result in decisional incapacity, as well as medical treatments often introduced in life or death situations.