What Is an Advance Directive?

Advance health care directives (or advance directives) are a way you can express how much or how little you want done for you when you are no longer able to make health care decisions.  Its a way for you to give consent in situations where you might want to choose your own treatment (aggressive, comfort care, or even none).  They can also be used to appoint someone (like a loved one or caregiver), to make decisions on your behalf if you can’t do so yourself.  An advance directive gives you a better chance of having your wishes carried out, even if you can’t talk to the doctors about your values and desires that relate to end-of-life care.

Advance directives come in two main forms:
  • A "healthcare power of attorney" (or "proxy" or "agent" or "surrogate") documents the person you select to be your voice for your healthcare decisions if you cannot speak for yourself. 
  • A "living will" documents what kinds of medical treatments you would or would not want at the end of life. 
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), advance-care planning, or making plans for your health care in the event of a medical crisis, is an important step at any age.  They also state that it's a legal document that goes into effect ONLY if you are too ill and can’t speak for yourself.  In this type of situation, an advance directive can help others know what medical care you’d like.  NIA suggests thinking of an advance directive as a “living document", a written document that you may adjust as long as you’re able to.

The following links will help answer any questions you have about advanced directives and there is also a link to download an advanced directive for your state.

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