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What is a health care directive and why do you need one?

While not an everyday topic, having clear instructions for your loved ones about your health care decisions is important. If you become incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself will your loved ones know what your wishes are?

 

Naming an agent

A health care directive is a legal document outlining your medical wishes and identifying someone to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable. The directive is only used when you are not able to speak on your own account.

Your agent may speak on your behalf in a temporary situation, such as if you are under anesthesia. In cases such as Alzheimer’s the role could be permanent. When naming a person to speak on your behalf, be sure to choose someone you can trust and count on, and knows you well.

Be clear about your wants

Once you choose your decision maker, take a few moments to discuss difficult topics such as life support treatments and end of life care. You want to make sure your last wishes are clearly understood and having the conversations in advance will make the process easier for everyone involved. Your agent will literally be making life or death decisions on your behalf; understanding and respecting your wishes is paramount.

Get the word out

Once you create a health care directive and have named an agent, provide copies to your primary care doctor and family members. Having a directive prepared in advance of a medical emergency ensures a roadmap for your wishes is in the hands of your loved ones and care provider.

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