By Tina Basenese, RN, MA, APN-C, ACHPN, Director of Valley Hospice
Newswise — An advance directive is a written statement of a person's wishes regarding medical treatment, often including the naming of a health care representative, made to ensure those wishes are carried out should the person be unable to communicate them to a doctor. Contrary to popular belief, filling out an advance directive can be a positive experience for both you and your loved ones. Think of the process as similar to buying insurance. When you buy insurance, you file the certificate of insurance away, and the only time you have to think about it is if or when you need it. Similarly, an advance directive is like an insurance policy: your loved ones will be glad to have it in the event that you are unable to make your own healthcare decisions.
Completing an advance directive allows you to remain in control of your fate, even when someone else must advocate for you. Think about what treatments you would or would not want provided in the event that you were to become incapacitated and unable to makes those decisions for yourself. Why not get those thoughts down on paper? Making your wishes known on an advance directive is a gift that you can give to your family. Your doctors and surrogates will know your preferences and will not have to worry about whether or not they are making the right decisions for you. And you will have a peace of mind knowing that your healthcare wishes will be carried out.
The most important thing is to pick the right representative to advocate for you and to have a conversation with them about what your wishes are in the event that you can’t make health decisions for yourself. Your choice for a representative surrogate need not necessarily be your spouse or your oldest child. A close family member or friend who best understands your wishes and can remain focused on honoring them — even when they conflict with his or her own emotional interests — can be an ideal surrogate.
It is never too soon to start the conversation with a loved one about how you would like to be cared for in the event of a life-threatening situation. An advance directive is appropriate for all ages as the unexpected can happen to anyone at any time. Therefore, I encourage all individuals to empower themselves by filling out an advance directive today so that their wishes may be heard and acted on.
It’s the best gift you can give your family and to yourself.
Below are some resources that may be of help for starting the conversation and filling out an advance directive:
Click “End of Life Care” and then “Advance Directive”
Learn to start the conversation about end of life wishes.
The project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end of life care and provides downloadable forms.
Provides downloadable Advance Directives and POLST forms.
Provides more information on the POLST form.
To help start and guide family conversations about care in times of serious illness.