Senior Lifestyles: Advance directives

Published 3:27 pm Monday, October 23, 2017

No excuses, get yours done

With all the information and advice available on the Internet and from professionals, I’m always amazed to learn the numbers of people who ignore good advice. In a recent article I read in Health Affairs, according to the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, only 33 percent of U.S. adults have taken the time and steps to complete an advance directive.

Advance directives are critical, not just for seniors, but for anyone over the age of 21. It is the primary tool for individuals to communicate their wishes if they become incapacitated and are unable to make their own health care decisions. This is important because you never know if you might be involved in a serious accident or have an illness that renders you incapable of speaking for yourself. Of course, it’s even more critical for seniors to have these documents, particularly near the end of life.

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Among the key components of advance directive documents are a living will that contains specific end-of-life care wishes such as do you want to be kept alive by artificial means, have a feeding tube placed into your body, or undergo major surgery to try to save or extend your life. The designation of a healthcare power of attorney allows you to name the person you want to speak for you when you cannot, and can make decisions as to what lifesaving measures you should undergo, or to simply keep you pain free and allow nature to run its course.

Of course, advance directives cannot address every conceivable situation that you might face, particularly as you near the end of life. But, having your wishes in writing and someone you trust designated to speak for you does spare your family and loved ones the added burden of making some very difficult decisions during what is often a very emotional time, and clearly states your wishes regarding decisions about organ donation, cremation or burial.

Without having an advance directive, some seniors nearing the end of life receive treatments that if they were able to speak for themselves never would have agreed to undergo. This can lead to prolonged suffering, both physical and possibly financial.

The reality is that advance directives remain the primary tool for people to communicate their end-of-life care wishes and appoint surrogate decision makers. While it is often helpful to have an attorney assist you in the creation of your advance directives, it is not always necessary. However, every state has its own advance directive forms, and in some states, the living will and health care surrogate or proxy forms are combined into a single document while in other states the forms are separate.

Once you’ve completed the proper forms and gotten them signed or notarized meeting your state’s requirements, they are legally binding and you may revoke or amend them at any time. You can learn what is required in your state at this website:

Be sure that you have the permission of the people you name as healthcare and financial surrogates, and that they agree to abide by your wishes as written in your advance directives. Once that is done, be sure to give a signed and if required, notarized copy to your surrogates, keep a copy with your will. It’s also a very good idea to give a copy of your advance directives to your primary physician and to discuss your wishes with him or her to be sure s/he will abide by your wishes.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. Ron is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at to