You’ve probably heard stories about people who experience an accident of some kind, sustain a head injury, and are being kept alive on machines or feeding tubes in a long-term care facility while mentally incapacitated.
“For some, that’s their worst nightmare,” says Linda Wallner, M.D., a family physician and the medical director of Hospice at Mayo Clinic Health System in Faribault and Owatonna. “If you don’t plan ahead, you might be in a situation you never wanted.”
Fortunately, advance care planning provides a way for you to clearly state your desires in advance of such a situation.
“An advance care plan doesn’t necessarily have to be an official form, but most health care providers can give you one and that makes it easier because it walks you through the process,” says Dr. Wallner. “You can be as specific as you want, or leave the decision to others. Each state has its own laws, but the plan must be in writing, signed and dated. Some need witnesses or a notary.”
Dr. Wallner says everyone age 18 or older should have an advance care plan and at least state who they want to make decisions for them. As you age, and especially if you have a life-threatening illness, making these decisions before you become unable to do so is important to guide loved ones in their decisions about your care.
“You might not know what you want to happen, but you should give thought to who you want to make decisions for you,” she says. “Discuss with them whether or not they’re comfortable following through with your wishes before you choose them. If mom says she could never stop the treatment if it meant shortening your life, but it is what you want, you may need to choose someone else.”
Creating advance directives
Advance directives need to be in writing. Each state has different forms and requirements for creating legal documents. Depending on where you live, a form may need to be signed by a witness or notarized. You can ask a lawyer to help you with the process, but it is generally not necessary.
Review your advance directives with your doctor and the person you want to make decisions for you — your health care agent — to be sure you have filled out forms correctly. When you have completed your documents, you need to do the following:
- Keep the originals in a safe but easily accessible place.
- Give a copy to your doctor.
- Give a copy to your heath care agent and any alternate agents.
- Keep a record of who has your advance directives.
- Talk to family members and other important people in your life about your advance directives and your health care wishes.
- Carry a wallet-sized card that indicates you have advance directives, identifies your health care agent, and states where a copy of your directives can be found.
- Keep a copy with you when you are traveling.
Excerpted from mayoclinic.org