Answers to Your Advance-Care Questions
Only 25 percent of Americans have done advance-care planning. Advance-care planning means making decisions about the care you want if you aren't able to speak for yourself.
“Without specific written instructions from you in which you spell out the types of treatment you would or would not want, your family and health care providers may be left wondering how to help you if you’re unable to communicate because of an illness or accident,” says Kathy Brandt, vice president of professional development, consumer and caregiver services for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “Being left without direction can be devastating for family members, who may disagree with each other and medical professionals about what steps should be taken.”
Here are questions and answers about advance-care planning to help you get started.
Q. What does advance-care planning include?
It includes getting information on the types of life-sustaining treatments available. You decide which types you would or wouldn’t want if you are diagnosed with a life-limiting illness or suffer a serious accident. This information is called an advance directive.
Q. What are advance directives?
The term “advance directive” describes these legal documents:
A living will allows you to write down your wishes about medical treatments at the end of life.
A medical power of attorney allows you to name someone as your health care agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can’t speak for yourself.
Q. What should I do after my advance directive is signed?
Keep the original in a safe and easily accessible place. Make several photocopies and give them to your health care agent, your doctor, and family members.
“For these documents to be honored and referred to, they need to be available in a time of need,” says Brandt. “Keeping a card in your wallet that gives contact information for your health care agents and others who have copies of your advance directive can help ensure your wishes are known and honored.”