It’s not something we often think about, but there may come a time in your life where an advance health directive can be critical in the event of a health crisis. 

Your personal values about life-saving efforts in an emergency, quality of life if you are in a state such as a permanent coma and end of life care are outlined in an advance health directive.

The benefit is that your wishes are clear for those close to you, and the directive helps medical personnel know what measures to take when caring for you. 

You are not required by federal law to have an advance health directive. If you don’t have one in place and something happens to you where you cannot speak for yourself, the state you live in will assign you one. 

But if you want your wishes to be considered when caring for you, then an advance health directive is essential.

What an Advance Health Directive Does

An advance health directive is a legal document that only goes into effect if you are incapacitated and unable to express your wishes. It tells others what type of medical care you would want in that situation.

There are two main elements of an advance directive – a living will and durable power of attorney. Plus, you can add additional documents with further instructions.

A living will instructs medical personnel, such as doctors, on how to treat you if you are dying or permanently unconscious. Again, this only goes into effect if you are unable to speak for yourself. The living will may include instructions such as whether CPR should be performed on you, your wishes regarding a ventilator, and matters involving end-of-life care.

A durable power of attorney names someone to act as your health care proxy, meaning they can make medical decisions for you on your behalf. This may be someone close to you or a person you select to be your health care agent. Whoever you choose, it should be someone who knows your values and wishes.

The additional documents in an advance health directive may include a DNR (Do-Not-Resuscitate Order), instructions regarding tissue and organ donation, or instructions regarding memory care and assisted living.

How to Create Your Directive

Step 1: Complete the Form

Each state has its own Advance Care Directive form, and you get a hard copy from your local hospital, doctor, law office, or senior care center. 

You can also find digital copies online via AARP, which has forms for each state.

Step 2: Make it Official

Have your Advance Care Directive form notarized or signed by two witnesses (outside of your power of attorney). 

Step 3: Give Everyone Copies

Give copies of your Advance Care Directive form to your power of attorney, close family members and your doctor (so they can include the form in your medical records).

After You Set Up Your Advance Health Directive

Make it a point to review your advance health directive from time to time to ensure it is still aligned with your wishes. Your thoughts about your health care may change as you age, or life events such as a marriage or divorce may play into your directives.

The National Institute on Aging has a wealth of information on advance care planning and health directives. If you want to learn more about memory care and assisted living, which can be included in your directive, contact us here at the Olivenhain Guest Home & Memory Care Community and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.

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