Healthy Aging: What is Advance Care Planning?

For the many older Americans living today with one or more chronic conditions, advance care planning is an important part of chronic disease self-management. While some people living with a chronic disease enjoy a reasonably good quality of life, in many cases, chronic diseases are ultimately accompanied by slow, extended periods of decline and disability. For some, the time may come when they are unable to speak for themselves or make their own decisions regarding health care.

It is during this time that you want to ensure your voice is heard, and your wishes and preferences regarding health care and heroic measures are known and honored. Having an advance directive for health care enables you to do that.

An important part of advance care planning involves having conversations with family members and other loved ones about what you would want in the event of a life-threatening illness or injury, and then, most importantly, documenting your preferences in writing through an instrument such as an advance directive.

An advance directive can include the name of the individual whom you have chosen to speak and make decisions on your behalf. This person, your “health care proxy” or “durable power of attorney for health care” should be someone you trust and someone who understands and will strive to honor and carry out your wishes.

Once you’ve completed your advance directive, ensure that copies are provided to your health care proxy, your health care providers, your hospital, and others whom you think should have the information.

You may want to review your advance directive from time to time, but for the most part, once you have taken the important step to complete one, you can be comfortable knowing that your wishes and preferences are known, and thus much more likely to be followed.

A variety of resources are available about advance care planning, advance directives, and related issues such as care giving, cognitive impairment, hospice, and palliative care on the Centers for Disease Control Web Site: www.cdc.gov

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