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Advance Directives - Giving A Free Gift to Your Loved Ones

My dad passed away from terminal cancer in January, 2015. Without a doubt, it was a very hard time for my brother, sister, and me. It was especially difficult for my mom, who cared for my dad from the moment he was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma in his blood. The news came just after their 50th wedding anniversary and only two years into his retirement. He underwent treatment, but it was only sufficient enough to purchase him about a year of relatively good quality of life. It did nothing to abate the cancer that was catastrophic in nature from the start. Although the illness may have taken my dad’s health, it never took his spirit. In fact, throughout the entire disease process, all the ups and downs, dad never lost his love for life and the craving to live life to its fullest. Along with that spunk (that he maintained till the end) was his choices and the resolve to make sure that we as a family knew exactly what his wishes were regarding his care and treatment in the event that he could no longer make these desires known. In short, my dad’s confidence became our confidence. In those times when we were faced with deciding exactly what course to take, my dad had already filled in the blanks and the only thing left for us to do was carry it out. His advance directives were a true gift of assurance and peace because we could carry out his choices instead of our own. Advance Directives aren't just for older adults. Unexpected end-of-life situations can happen at any age, so it's important for all adults to have advance directives. These legal documents are also known as Health Care Directives, Living Wills, Advance Healthcare Directives, or Medical Directives. Advance Directives describe preferences regarding your medical wishes in the event you are incapacitated or cannot consent to your health care treatment. Keep in mind that a Living Will (which is a type of Advance Directive) is different from a Last Will and Testament. If you are unable to express your health care wishes in the future, then hospitals and/or family will reference your Living Will as a statement of your medical wishes. However, a Last Will and Testament is a document used to indicate how you would like your assets divided or children cared for after your death. You cannot specify medical treatment preferences with a Last Will and Testament.

Without an advance directive, the burden of making your medical decisions falls on your family members. A personal advance directive gives you control of your medical wishes and saves your family from making tough treatment choices on your behalf. Also, appointing a Medical Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy allows you to discuss your treatment wishes with someone you trust prior to any unforeseen medical circumstance so they can make health care decisions in your best interest. Keep in mind that health care providers will only be allowed to carry out certain procedures according to your state's laws. Here are some of the main treatment choices specific to advance directives:

  • Life Support - any life-sustaining procedures done to a patient to restore function to an organ through medical intervention. Common forms of life support include CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation), defibrillators, assisted breathing, dialysis, and artificially administered food and water.

  • Comfort Care - healthcare professionals will use any means possible to relieve your pain, including administering medication or creating a comfortable environment for you to rest.

  • Quality of Life - refers to what you may want in extreme health situations and what constitutes a quality life for you.

There are a host of other directions that you can make known through advance directives that bring clarity to both you and your loved ones. The good news is: forms make it simple! You can find a number of advance directive forms online which can be downloaded and personally filled out in the privacy of your own home. These forms are not difficult, they are just extremely detailed. Talk to your attorney or a local elder law attorney today to find out the specific requirements in Alabama for creating your own personal advance directives. Or you can come by our facility any time and we’ll be glad to sit down with you and explain the simple, yet thorough process. Give your loved ones the advanced gift of your directions. Trust me, your confidence will be their confidence as well as a source of peace and assurance!

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