Advance care planning

It is never too early to begin advance care planning for end-of-life care.

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Advance care planning might seem like something you start to consider only at the end of your life. However, anyone can find themselves in need of an advance care plans due to a sudden onset of a terminal illness or after experiencing a life-threatening injury. For your medical care wishes to be known and carried out, you should consider advance care planning well before you need to make these important decisions.  

An advance care plan helps you decide before something happens, what your wishes for medical care are in the event you are unable to speak for yourself. It also takes the burden off your loved ones. They will not wonder whether they made the decisions you would have wanted. The time to start an advance care plan is now, especially if you are one of the two-thirds of Americans who currently do not have one.

Where to start

An advance care plan starts by talking with your loved ones. Medical care decisions are very personal and depend on your values. Take some time to learn what end-of-life decisions may be needed. Talking with your healthcare providers about your current medical conditions and what complications could occur might help you plan. Choose someone to make decisions for you when you can no longer make them for yourself and discuss your preferences with them. The next step would be making an advance care directive, which is a legal document. This is a record of your wishes in writing. You would also appoint a durable power of attorney for health care or a health proxy. This person would act to ensure your wishes are followed in the case you are unable, either physically or mentally, to speak for yourself. The National Institute on Aging has a list of agencies that provide free advance directive forms:

It is recommended you review your advance directives once a year or whenever there is a change in employment, residence or health. A lawyer can help prepare your advance directives, but their services are not necessary for everyone. Agencies such as Area Agency on Aging, state legal aid offices, state bar associations, and social service agencies may help prepare advance directives for free or low cost. The National Institute on Aging suggests two free online resources to help guide your planning and conversations with loved ones: PREPARE for Your Care and The Conversation Project.

No matter your age, advance care planning will help you get the medical care you desire when you are unable to make those decisions for yourself.

For more information, visit MSU Extension's Aging website.

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