Advance Directives for Health Care Decisions – You Need This

Please. If there is nothing else that you ever get out of my blog, hear this. Not only does your senior need an Advance Directive for Health Care Decisions, but so do you! And so does your spouse, and your siblings and your children and grandchildren.  What?  My grandchildren? Yes, if they are adults, they do need it too.  So often the focus of the need for Advance Directives is on the senior population, with good cause. But I hardly ever hear about anyone talking about the need for all adults 18 years old and over.  

Advance Directives for Health Care Decisions is a legal form that allows you to assign a person as your medical decision-maker in the event that you are not able to make healthcare decisions for yourself.  It also allows you to say what you might wish for yourself under certain medical circumstances.   Some of these choices are hard. Such as would you want to be on a mechanical ventilator to breath for you, if so, for what length of time of ok with you, and how long is too long?  What if you were in a coma or had untreatable cancer; would your decision be the same?  What about dialysis?  They also generally allow for you to decide if you would like to be an organ donor, of what organs, and for what purpose.  It may also allow you to make decisions regarding pain management.  These are not easy to think about, let alone talk about.  Most people are not accustomed to talking about dying.  

So why would young adults need this form in place just as much as seniors?  Because, simply, it’s not only the seniors who have strokes and heart attacks or brain injuries.  Young adults also have these, and they also suffer from car accidents, gunshot wounds, other traumas and medical conditions that make them unable to voice their choices for medical care.  Often, these young adults will remain in a coma or semi-comatose, for a long time; often months or years.  Long term care facilities are full of young people who never considered filling out their Advance Directive for Health Care Decisions, most probably never even heard of it.  But because they are young, the decisions are even harder for their families.

I feel very strongly that everyone needs to complete this important document, have it witnessed appropriately, give a copy to family, and then just tuck it away.  I always have a stack of these at work and when a patient needs one, I always make sure to give extra copies for family members.  I hand them out at family parties because I never want my family to have that burden.  

It is a very easy form to complete, and it does not require an attorney.  In fact, I have seen Advance Directives written up by an attorney that make no sense at all!  Lawyers are called Lawyers because they are not doctors I guess!  

Each state has different forms that they recognize, you can download the form for your state here.  

Many people just think that their family will just take care of all the decisions for them.  Don’t put that burden on your family!  And it is a burden.  I have seen families literally have a fist fight in the ICU because they could not agree on what to do for their parent.  It’s a burden when families don’t know what you want, so they become paralyzed and make no decision.  And that might not be what you want.  

To me, there is no right or wrong when it comes to Advance Directive for Health Care Decisions.  The only right answer is what a person wishes for themselves.  Their family should only be their voice when they cannot speak up.  That would be in an ideal world, but until it is required by law to have an Advance Directive for Health Care Decision, there will still be families who fight, disagree and who possibly will never made the decision that the patient would have wanted for themselves.  

So, if your senior is still alert and able to understand this, talk to them about this blog post. Even if they don’t want to complete the form, if they are able to say what they might want, then you will have an idea of how to proceed if the day comes that they need someone to make healthcare decisions for the.   At least this post may get people talking, and that is better than silence.  And yes, you need one too!  And while you’re at it, print off a form for your spouse, friends, and adult children.  Because that’s what you do when you love someone.

Do you have questions about completing Advance Directive for Health Care Decisions?   Have your own experience with completing this important form or a story about it?  Please leave a comment below!

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