Aging and End of Life Decisions
Did you know that in 2011, the “baby boom” generation began to turn 65? By 2030, it is projected that 20% or 1 in 5 people will be age 65 or older. The “oldest old”, those aged 85 and over, are the most growing elderly age group.
Let’s face it, we are living longer! And with that said, there are some things every aging person should consider. Carefully select a caregiver as many of them provide significant decision-making authority. They monitor and adjust the recipient’s care, communicate with healthcare professionals on behalf of the care recipient and act as an advocate for the care of the recipient with the care providers, community services, or government agencies.
It is wise to do some advance medical care planning in the event you are no longer able to make or communicate medical decisions AND your condition is considered terminal or irreversible. Advance care planning includes informal discussions and advance directives such as, Living Wills and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare.
An advance directive lets you indicate who you would want to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so. It also lets you state how you want to be treated in the event you become seriously ill and cannot speak for yourself. Who has an advance directive? Only about a quarter of U.S. adults age 18 and older!. Those who have an advance directive are more likely to be older rather than younger, be chronically or terminally sick rather than healthy, have a higher rather than lower level of education and have a higher rather than lower income.
A Living Will is a written statement expressing an individual’s wish for what should (or should not) be done in end-of-life situations, for example: do not resuscitate. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care designates another person to make health-care decisions in case the patient is incapacitated.
Ask yourself, if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness or involved in a major accident with serious injuries, would you want to be kept pain-free, pain-free and unconscious, or remain conscious with some pain? Most people do not have a Living Will, as they prefer to have trusted family members, friends, and physicians make final decisions for them. Most people do not know what their preferences might be at the end of life. People are often unaware of all medical treatment options; they cannot predict their future illnesses or circumstances; or they may change their minds about preferences and treatment choices.
While a Living Will is great to have, keep in mind that there are problems with them. Most people cannot articulate in detail what they want; Living Wills are often not available when needed; proxies might not interpret Living Wills accurately; or Living Wills cost too much without providing the promised benefits.
A better alternative to a Living Will is a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. You can give the person whom you select to make decisions about your care as much or as little power as you like. A person with a durable power of attorney for healthcare typically has the power to decide the medical facility you should go to, access medical records, select doctors, etc. It is always a good idea to get advice from an attorney that handles Wills and Powers of Attorney.