What are advance directives?

Dr. Aruna V. Josyula, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Advance directives are legal documents that delineate what type of healthcare you would want in various scenarios. These directives may designate a person who would speak on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. You may complete your own directives in a way that is in line with your personal beliefs and values. Advance directives go into effect only when you are not able to make decisions or speak for yourself. These documents are not set in stone and should be considered “living” documents, meaning they can be updated if new information becomes available or your situation changes. Acceptable advance directives vary from state to state and may include the following:

  • Living will: This document delineates treatments you would or would not want if you were dying or permanently unconscious and unable to make decisions for yourself.
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare: In this document you designate a person—and one or two alternatives—to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so. You should have discussions with the people named in this document prior to completing the paperwork to ensure they understand your wishes and that they are comfortable advocating for you.
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) order: This is a document completed by you and your doctor. It is a physician order stating you would not want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) performed if you were to be found not breathing and without a pulse.
  • Physician orders of life-sustaining treatment (POLST) paradigm form: This is a document that is completed by you and your doctor and includes decisions about CPR, whether you would want to be hospitalized and what types of treatments you would want, whether you are hospitalized or not. This is also a physician order. There are other documents that combine components of those above, such as the Five Wishes form. Other documents are available that discuss organ donation and various treatments, such as dialysis or blood transfusion.

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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.