April 16 marked National HealthCare Decisions Day. A day to inspire, educate and empower the public about the importance of advance care planning, before they are too ill to make personal and medical decisions themselves.
While this is an uncomfortable conversation for most people, making decisions ahead of time and putting your last wishes in writing brings peace of mind to families and loved ones. It helps to avoid the difficult situations that are so common when a person becomes seriously ill and the family is left to guess what their loved one would have wanted.
Over 70 percent of Americans have thought about end-of-life medical decisions and would like their treatment preferences to be honored; however, studies have shown that less than 20 percent of Americans have an advance directive in place. Of those who do have an advance directive, up to 75 percent of their physicians remain unaware of it. That means that only about one in 20 Americans are in position to feel secure that their personal and medical wishes will be respected if they lose the ability to directly control their own care.
Advance Directives are legal documents that designate a medical power of attorney and provide a physician with instructions for a patient’s care when the patient is no longer able to make or express his or her health care wishes. Maybe people may think drafting an Advance Directive is complicated. Maybe they don’t like dealing with lawyers or the costs associated with them. But advance care forms for every state are widely available on the Internet, at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s website or through the National Healthcare Decision Day website, among others. An Advance Health Care Directive doesn’t have to cost more than $10 – for a notary.
An easy way to get started working on your Advance Directive – or if you are helping a loved one with theirs – is filling out the “Five Wishes” questionnaire designed by the Aging with Dignity organization. The Five Wishes booklet is a 12-page checklist that asks those important questions about end-of-life planning.
The Five Wishes document lets your family and doctors know:
• Who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them.
• The kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want.
• How comfortable you want to be.
• How you want people to treat you.
• What you want your loved ones to know.
Setting up your Advanced Care Directive is a difficult decision, but more often than not, it is the ultimate in patient empowerment – to be prepared for the end of our lives. Take the month of April to prepare yourself and your family. It will take the burden off your loved ones to make difficult decisions when the time comes. Freedom from making heart-wrenching decisions is one of the best gifts you can give them.

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