Advance directives: when to prepare

Health can change and decline at any time, which is why it is crucial your family and loved ones understand your end-of-life wishes well ahead of time. Advance directives should be created to ensure you receive the care you want during a medical emergency. However, in times of medical emergency, advance directives cannot cover all possible medical crises. For this reason, you should also name a patient advocate in your advance directives to speak on your behalf. Advance directives are important for all adults - especially those with degenerative diseases and those changing residences. When should you prepare?

When you are young

Everyone 18 years and older should have directives established in case of emergency. Once you turn 18, no one - not even your parents - can access your medical records. This can become an issue if you are severely injured and cannot speak for yourself. An additional factor to consider when establishing advance directives is today's advanced health care technology. If involved in a life-threatening injury, you may be put on life support for long periods of time, even if that is something against your wishes. It becomes difficult to honor your health care wishes if they are unknown. By establishing advance directives, you can ensure your medical team will acknowledge and fulfill your wishes regarding end-of-life care. It is also easier to complete advance directives when you are young and without medical complications.

When diagnosed with a degenerative disease

A crucial time to establish advance directives is if you are diagnosed with a degenerative disease. It is important to establish these advance directives when you are initially diagnosed and have the capacity to complete the documents. When establishing advance directives, be sure to indicate where you would like to receive treatment, express what kind of pain management you would like, determine what "quality of life" means to you, and indicate what types of life-sustaining treatments you would like to receive. You should also name a patient advocate to voice your end-of-life wishes when you are incapable of doing so yourself.

When changing residences

Another important time to have advance directives established is if you are changing residences, such as from your home to an assisted living facility. If you are hospitalized without advance directives or a patient advocate, probate court may become involved to establish a guardian to make medical decisions on your behalf. This can cause undue stress such as delayed treatment, and your guardian will make decisions on your behalf without knowing your wishes. To avoid this from happening, share your advance directives with your primary care physician, family, loved ones and medical staff, so they can be sure of your wishes regarding medical and end-of-life care.

By having advance directives established, you can ensure you are not leaving your loved ones and family with tough decisions or unaware of the treatment you would want to receive in case of emergency or at the end of life.

To request your free advance directives booklet from McLaren, click here:

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Check back next week for part five of our five-part series on advance directives.