No one wants to talk about the end of life issues. Especially if those issues involve a beloved aging senior who is near the end of their life. But no matter how hesitant family members might be to broach the subject, either because they find the subject awkward or in poor taste, it’s crucial that a living will be discussed and legally documented while your senior is still able to make known his or her wishes for end of life care! If your loved one is already unable to state coherently his or her wishes, then talk with siblings or other family members. Make and document the decisions you choose together.
Seniors, caregivers, and family members benefit from having a living will in place. Older adults often are relieved to have their end of life wishes known. Many seniors do not want their families to be burdened with having to make these difficult decisions during a sudden health crisis. Also, the burden of worrying that their wishes won’t be followed is removed.
A living will is a legal document which clearly lists a person’s stated wishes for end of life care. It may also be called a healthcare directive or an advance directive. The terms of the living will influence doctors and family members when they must decide on medical treatment for patients unable to communicate or no longer able to decide for themselves.
A living will and a Medical Power of Attorney often work together. Some states combine the two into one document. Your senior can choose someone legally to make medical decisions for them. Sometimes that person is called the health care agent. They might also be called the proxy for health care decisions.
A living will documents specifically what end of life treatments are acceptable to your older adult and which ones they refuse. Usually, a living will includes a senior’s preferences for treatments such as CPR, mechanical ventilation (breathing by machine), tube feeding, dialysis, antibiotics or antiviral meds, palliative care (keeping the patient as comfortable and pain-free as possible. A senior may refuse any invasive treatments or tests or may choose to have their Medical Power of Attorney make those decisions about tests, etc., on an as-needed basis.
In a living will, end of life care directives often include seniors’ wishes for after the end of life. Many seniors want to donate organs and tissue for others awaiting transplants. They may also wish to donate their bodies for scientific study. These two issues may be perhaps the most difficult to broach with your senior, but it is important that you do so.
When considering a living will for your senior, be sure to read the “fine print.” Having a living will takes the guesswork out of the decision making for end of life care. It protects caregivers or family members from the stress of trying to honor wishes which were not made clear to them and it should prevent arguments about the patient’s end of life care among family members and caregivers.
If seniors want a non-family member or an unmarried partner to be in charge of their end of life care, they have to put in place both a living will and a Medical Power of Attorney. Otherwise, HIPPA laws will prevent doctors from even speaking to them about your senior’s care.
Different states have different laws for living wills. Some states may require only the living will, whereas another may require both a living will and a Medical Power of Attorney. Make sure to use the correct form for your state. You can find links on the website for The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Choose the “Caring” section. That link refers to the living will as an Advance Directive.