What Are Advance Directives?

Healthcare is a touchy subject, and decisions regarding your medical treatment are often deeply personal or even spiritual. Everyone is different, everyone has different beliefs regarding different treatments, and everyone has the right to dictate what type of treatment they would like to receive – even when they’re physically incapable of conveying what they want.

Advance directives are a way to ensure that your wishes are honored in situations such as catastrophic injuries or terminal illnesses. These legal documents outline how your doctor/family should proceed when confronted with situations such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), organ and tissue donation, and do-not-resuscitate orders.

Some faiths forbid common medical procedures such as blood transfusions and the use of antibiotics, so it’s important to convey these beliefs in your medical files.

For the most part, advance directives dictate how far you want your doctor to go to save your life. Some folks don’t want to be resuscitated, some won’t accept transplants, and some don’t want to spend months or years in a coma. Other folks are willing to do whatever it takes to have a shot at surviving a catastrophic injury. 

You can also use an advance directive to make an anatomical gift. You have the right to donate your organs and tissue to research or educational institutions, or for transplantation. 

By giving your caregivers explicit directives on your wishes, you not only keep power over your own wishes, but you remove the burden from them. When faced with the likely imminent death of a loved one, the last thing a person wants to deal with is making complex medical decisions, especially if the whole family isn’t in agreement about what you would want.

Making your wishes known removes any confusion or disagreement that might arise between your parents, children, or other loved ones. 

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Advance Directives and Healthcare Proxies

A healthcare proxy, or surrogate, is appointed by you to make decisions about your health whenever you are incapable.

You can grant a durable power of attorney to a family member, friend, lawyer, or pastor to make decisions regarding your medical treatment and end-of-life care. It can also be a good idea to name a backup proxy in case your first choice is unable to fulfill its duties. 

A patient advocate must be identified through legal channels, by filing a document with your attorney or primary health physician.

If you don’t legally name a proxy, your loved one could have to go to court in order to be granted medical guardianship, which can cost them time and money during an already stressful situation.

A surrogate can be appointed in lieu of, or in addition to, an advance directive. If you choose to have both, your surrogate will make any decisions that aren’t explicitly outlined in your advance directive and will try to make decisions that best reflect what they think your wishes would be.

It’s important to select a health care agent who meets your state’s requirements. This person should not be one of your doctors, should be fully trustworthy to make decisions that reflect your beliefs and wants, and should be willing and able to discuss your wishes in advance. 

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We're Here To Help

If a loved one or a person you are working with needs help with writing an advance care directive or any geriatric care planning or coordination, then we would be delighted to have a conversation with you directly about how we can help.

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What are Living Wills?

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Living wills are a form of advance directive that takes place specifically when you are terminally ill. There’s a lot of crossover between advance directives and living wills due to varying laws state to state. Both documents can be wide or limited in scope, and what you choose to include is up to you.

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The Difference Between Living Wills and Advance Directives

An advance directive primarily covers medical decisions made in the wake of a condition like a stroke, coma, or dementia.

A living will is a specific form of advance directive that details which procedures, surgeries, and treatments you’re willing to undergo while already terminal.

Certain life-saving procedures can extend your life for days or weeks at a time, allowing you to spend more time with family or to get your financial or spiritual affairs in order. 



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What Should You Include in Your Living Will?

Your living will should address any and all common life-saving or pain-managing procedures that you would or would not want to undergo.

These can include things like mechanical ventilation, tube feeding, dialysis, comfort care, etc.

These can also include do-not-resuscitate and do-not-intubate orders. 

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How Permanent are Advance Directives?

An advance directive is legally binding, but it’s not permanent.

You can update the content of your directive as often as you would like.

It’s important to keep your healthcare proxy and family informed of any changes and to distribute new copies (and destroy old copies) whenever you update yours. 

It’s important to update your advance directive whenever you receive a new diagnosis, go through a divorce or get married, and every 5-10 years to reflect your changing philosophies and life situations.

Your views on mortality may change as you age, have kids, or get married. 

Creating an Advance Directive

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Your advance directive cannot be oral.

You must create a written form that is filed with your doctor, your proxy, and any backup caregiver. If you already have a family or personal lawyer, file it with them, but a lawyer isn’t necessary.

Each state has unique forms, which can be found on the websites of the AARP, the American Bar Association, and other organizations.

Some states require a signature from a witness or notary.

The original advance directive should be kept somewhere safe and easily accessible, along with other documents like your birth certificate and social security card.

You should also keep a record of who all has copies of your advance directive, as well as a wallet-size card indicating that you have directives in place and where they can be found.

Keep a copy of your directives with you when traveling.

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We're Here To Help

At Conscious Aging Solutions, we understand the importance of advance directives and living wills.

If you need to get any form of geriatric care planning for a loved one, please reach out to our friendly team today. 

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