Advance Directives: What Seniors Should Know

By January 18, 2013Care Planning

Advance directives are a set of written instructions that inform others of medical care preferences. For seniors who are suddenly unable to make their own health decisions, family members and doctors will consult advance directives. Having these legally binding written directions can help to alleviate confusion or disagreements during times of medical emergency.


What kind of health measures or treatments do seniors want in the event of an emergency?


When seniors determine their wishes, it is vital for them to consider their values. For example, seniors should consider the importance of independence, the need to self-sufficient and what, if any, conditions would make life not worth living. Seniors must ask themselves:


  • Would I want treatment to extend my life in any kind of situation?
  • Would I want receive treatment in a situation where a cure may not be possible?
  • What kind of palliative care do I want in order to ease the pain and suffering of a terminal illness?

Naturally, seniors cannot predict emergency medical situations that will occur. They cannot foresee diseases that will develop. However, when creating advance directives, it is necessary for seniors to discuss the following treatments with their doctors:


  • Resuscitation: This procedure restarts the heart in the event it ceases to beat. Seniors should determine if, when and for how long they want to be resuscitated if their heart stops beating. It must also be determined if seniors want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) performed and/or resuscitation via a device which delivers an electronic shock directly to the heart in an effort to stimulate rhythm.
  • Mechanical ventilation: This procedure is performed when a senior is unable to breathe on his or her own. It takes over the process of breathing, providing inhalations and expirations. Seniors must consider if, when and for how long they would want a mechanical ventilator to perform the act of breathing for them.
  • Nutrition and hydration assistance: This procedure supplies the body with vital nutrients and fluids needed for survival. Nutrition and hydration can be delivered through a stomach tube or via an intravenous route. Seniors must decide if, when and for how long they would want to be supplied with hydration/nutrition assistance in this manner.
  • Dialysis: This procedure works to remove waste from the blood and consistently manages fluid levels within the kidneys when they no longer function properly. Seniors must determine if, when and for how long they would want to receive dialysis treatment.


How do seniors fill out advance directive forms?


Advance directives should always be in writing. Seniors should be aware that each state has their own specific laws when it comes to advance directives. State-specific forms are available from a variety of websites, such as the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Although it is not legally required, seniors may choose to consult with an attorney about the process of creating advance directives. Once the forms are filled out, seniors must give copies to their doctors, healthcare agents and chosen family members. It is best for seniors to keep an additional copy in a safe place.


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