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April 16 is National Health Care Decisions Day

It's the perfect time to start your advance care planning.

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You make decisions about your health every day. But have you made plans for your care in case of medical emergency or serious illness? April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD). It’s the perfect time to start your advance care planning.

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What is advance care planning? 

Advance care planning isn’t just for people with serious illness. It’s a part of healthy aging. It’s a way to help your loved ones and doctors make health care decisions for you if you can't speak for yourself. Talking about your values, preferences and beliefs will help make your wishes clear. 

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Why it's important

You have a right to make decisions about your medical care. But in a time of crisis, you may not be able to speak for yourself. One out of every three people will need someone to make decisions for them at some point. It’s best to be prepared. 

The basics of advance directives

An advance directive explains your wishes for end-of-life or critical care. It includes two types of legal papers: a living will and a durable power of attorney. The American Medical Association suggests you work with a lawyer and your doctor to fill out these forms.

Living will

A living will speaks for you. It shows your choices for health care when you’re not able to speak for yourself. It helps when hard decisions have to be made. Your family and doctors will know exactly what treatments you would and wouldn’t want. Be sure to update your living will on a regular basis.

Health care durable power of attorney 

This is a legal document that gives someone the power to carry out your medical wishes. The person you choose is known as your agent. Your agent can be anyone who:

  • Knows you well 
  • Understands what choices you’d make
  • Can talk with your loved ones about your care
  • Will make sure your wishes are carried out

Creating a plan when you are healthy

You may be healthy when you complete your advance directive. It’s hard to imagine all the situations when you might need an agent to speak for you. Your wishes may depend on how sick or injured you are. 

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Would you want to have a machine help you breathe?
  • Would you want treatment to keep you alive no matter what condition you’re in? 
  • Would you want to be brought back to life if your heart stops?