Do Your Doctors and Family Know Your Healthcare Preferences?
You’ve probably heard the terms “advance care planning” and “advance directive.” They refer to the plans we can make (at any age) to outline our wishes for care should we become unable to communicate them. Here is some helpful information from the National Institute on Aging.
Advance care planning involves learning about the types of decisions that might need to be made, considering those decisions ahead of time, and then letting others know—both your family and your healthcare providers—about your preferences.
These preferences are often put into an advance directive, a legal document that goes into effect only if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. This could be the result of disease or severe injury—no matter how old you are. It helps others know what type of medical care you want.
An advance directive also allows you to express your values and desires related to end-of-life care. You might think of it as a living document—one that you can adjust as your situation changes because of new information or a change in your health.
Advance care planning decisions
Sometimes decisions must be made about the use of emergency treatments to keep you alive. Doctors can use several artificial or mechanical ways to try to do this. Decisions that might come up at this time relate to:
- CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
- Ventilator use
- Artificial nutrition (tube feeding) and artificial hydration (IV, or intravenous, fluids)
- Comfort care – anything that can be done to soothe you and relieve suffering while staying in line with your wishes
Getting started with advance care planning
Start by thinking about what kind of treatment you do or do not want in a medical emergency. It might help to talk with your doctor about how your current health conditions might influence your health in the future. For example, what decisions would you or your family face if your high blood pressure leads to a stroke? You can ask your doctor to help you understand and think through your choices before you put them in writing. Discussing advance care planning decisions with your doctor is free through Medicare during your annual wellness visit. Private health insurance may also cover these discussions.
If you don’t have any medical issues now, your family medical history might be a clue to help you think about the future. Talk with your doctor about decisions that might come up if you develop health problems similar to those of other family members.
Of course, making these decisions is extremely personal. Everyone’s needs and preferences are different. If you need to, talk them through with your doctor, loved ones, or another trusted person.
For more information and helpful resources, visit the National Institute on Aging.