Many of us know firsthand the value of having an advance care directive to ensure our healthcare wishes at the end of life are met. But as the saying goes, “life happens.” We age, our health changes, and sometimes, the healthcare decisions we once found important change as well. The start of a new year is the perfect time to review and refresh an advance care directive, or begin crafting a new one.
What is an advance directive?
Simply put, an advance directive is a legal document that spells out one’s end-of-life wishes. It has two parts:
- A living will states the type and extent of medical treatment one does, and does not, want to receive at the end of life. It explores such questions as: Do you want CPR, tube feedings and to be placed on a ventilator? Do you want artificial life support to be removed if you are declared “brain dead”? Do you wish to be an organ donor? The living will spells out one’s personal answers in clear detail. The choice – or the directive – is the patient’s.
- A healthcare proxy, or medical power of attorney, names a person to ensure a patient’s healthcare wishes are followed. The appointed person becomes an advocate for a person who is no longer able to make his or her own care-related decisions.
Engaging people in making their own decisions about how they want to live at the end of life can bring a tremendous sense of emotional and spiritual peace, says Dr. Tim Ihrig, Chief Medical Officer of Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care. They find comfort knowing they are “living based on (their) values, what (they) find sacred, and how (they) want to write the chapters of (their) lives – whether it’s the last chapter or the last five.”
The advance directive is an important one of those chapters. Writing one, and keeping it up-to-date as “life happens” and circumstances change benefits not only patients, but their loved ones as well.
Every day, families agonize over whether they are making the best healthcare decisions for those who are no longer able to speak for themselves. Advance directives can help ease the stress and bring comfort to families knowing they are making decisions based on the expressed wishes of their loved ones.
A Trending Conversation
A spate of surveys and reports in recent years shows that the vast majority of Americans think it’s important to talk to their loved ones about end-of-life care, but too few are doing so. After systematically reviewing 150 research studies involving 795,000 Americans from 2011 through 2016, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported that only one in three adults in the U.S. had completed an advance directive.
The Penn team found that older people and those in hospice or palliative care were more likely to have advance directives. Their take-away? Some may perceive limitations to the usefulness of advance directives, but people with living wills have them to protect their loved ones from the burden of having to make difficult end-of-life care decisions on their behalf.
Now is the time to have empowering conversations with loved ones and caregivers, and to review advance directives. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization provides advance directive forms applicable to your state. Download them, start working through the questions, and write that next chapter.
For more information on how Crossroads can support patients at end of life, visit our website of give us a call at 1-888-564-3405.
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