RIDGEWOOD, N.J. -- With most things in life, a bit of planning goes a long way. This is especially true when dealing with advance directives and end-of-life decision making.
An advance directive is a written statement of a person's wishes regarding medical treatment should the person be unable to communicate them to a doctor. Contrary to popular belief, filling out an advance directive can be a positive experience for both patients and their families, and offer peace of mind.
"Think of the process as similar to buying insurance," said Tina Basenese, RN, MA, APN-C, ACHPN, and director of Valley Hospice. "When you buy insurance, you file the certificate of insurance away, and the only time you have to think about it is if you need it. Similarly, an advance directive is like an insurance policy and your loved ones will be glad to have it in the event that you are unable to make your own healthcare decisions."
Advance directives allow patients to remain in control of their fate, even if they are unable to communicate. As Basenese explained, it's important to think about which treatments patients would or would not want in the event they become incapacitated. "Making your wishes known on an advance directive is a gift that you can give to your family," she said. "Your doctors and family will know your preferences, and you will have peace of mind knowing that your healthcare wishes will be carried out."
Basenese stressed the most important factor to consider when filling out an advance directive is selecting the proper surrogate to advocate on your behalf. "Your choice for a representative surrogate is someone who understands your wishes and can remain focused on honoring them, even when they conflict with his or her own emotional interests."
Like most healthcare planning, it's never too soon to start the conversation about how to be cared for in the event of a life-threatening situation. "An advance directive is appropriate for all ages as the unexpected can happen to anyone at any time," said Basenese. "Therefore, I encourage all individuals to empower themselves by filling out an advance directive today so that their wishes may be heard and acted on."
For more information on advance directives, click here.