By Jennifer Sarisky
When you’re ill and unable to speak for yourself, where would you like to be and with whom? What kind of care would you want? Most of us don’t think about these questions or discuss them with our families. Some of us have difficulty talking about end-of-life issues, some fear death and others believe they are young and healthy, and don’t need to make these decisions.
For these reasons, April 16 has been designated as National Health care Decisions Day. Health care Decisions Day was initiated to raise awareness of the importance of planning ahead for health care decisions, particularly end of life care, when a person is unable to speak for him- or herself. The goal also is to encourage the specific use of a medical directive to communicate these important decisions.
According to the National Health care Decisions Day Organization, 90 percent of Americans have heard of a living will, 71 percent have thought about their end-of-life preferences, but only 29 percent actually have a living will. Living wills, health care power of attorney and advanced medical directives are tools to assist with advanced care planning.
A living will is a written document that specifies what medical treatments you want to be used to keep you alive. They often include your wishes regarding organ donation or pain management. A health care power of attorney allows you to appoint a person to make medical decisions and act on your behalf if you are unable to make these decisions. An advanced medical directive combines a living will and a health care power of attorney.
Five Wishes is a similar document to an advanced directive that can serve as a comprehensive guide to assist with making end of life care decisions. For more information on Five Wishes, go to www.agingwithdignity.org.
When reflecting on your wishes, it may be helpful to focus on a few key areas. Think about your physical comfort, such as pain, breathing and even physical environment. Consider your mental and emotional needs. Would you want to talk about fears or concerns with someone or be kept free from anxiety if possible? Finally, consider your spirituality and whether you would want your religious community involved.
Deciding whom you would want as your decision maker is also important. Select someone who is a trusted advocate and would adhere to your wishes and values.
After completing these documents, discuss your wishes with your family, friends and physician. Your appointed health care power of attorney and physician should have copies of these documents easily accessible. The commonwealth of Virginia has an Advance Directive Registry that allows you to file your advanced directive so that your health care provider and loved ones can find a copy of your directive if you are unable to provide one. For more information and for free forms go to www.connectvirginia.org/adr.
The writer is a family services specialist at the city department of community and human services’ division of aging and adult services.