What are the benefits of having an advance care directive?

Dr. Aruna V. Josyula, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Advance care planning is important because a medical crisis could occur at any time (even if you are young or healthy), and you may lose the ability to state your wishes or make decisions. Some of these decisions could be regarding end-of-life care, and research has shown that those types of decisions are not best made under the pressure of a crisis. That’s why it is important to make healthcare plans in advance, so that you can ensure you get the medical treatment you want. Putting your plans down in writing, in the form of advance directives, is ideal. If not, then having conversations about them with family, friends and health care providers is important, so that your preferences are known.

Research has shown that if advance care planning is not done, you are less likely to receive the treatment you would want compared to those who have a plan in place.

Dr. Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Research suggests that as many as 40 percent of older adults haven't thought about advance care planning and that 90 percent haven't documented their wishes for end-of-life care. Preparing for a time when you may be too ill to make your own medical decisions is an important step—especially in view of research suggesting that more than one-quarter of elderly Americans lack the capacity to make their own medical care decisions at the end of life.

Think ahead and prepare an advance care directive (ACD). This will ensure that your doctor, family and friends are aware of your healthcare preferences.

An ACD empowers you to determine how the end of your life will happen and empowers your family with guidance on how to ensure your decisions are respected when the time comes. Research shows that patients and their families report significantly less stress, anxiety and depression when an ACD is in place.

By considering your options early, you can ensure the quality of life that is important to you while avoiding treatments that may be futile. Consider how you feel about treatment approaches such as feeding tubes and life-support machines, as well as organ donation, before you reach a crisis point. You need to be able to evaluate these measures rationally, during normal times, and while you are able to effectively communicate your wishes.

An ACD also frees your loved ones from the pressure of having to make critical medical care decisions for you while they are under stress or in emotional turmoil. If your health takes a turn for the worse, it provides peace of mind to know that your doctors have a blueprint in place to guide them in how they treat you and a statement of any treatment refusal decisions you have made.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.