Who will make medical decisions for your parent if your parent can no longer make them for himself or herself? How does your parent feel about artificial nutrition or machine-assisted breathing? What does your parent value when it comes to end-of-life care?
Many family members never talk about the uncomfortable decisions that they may need to one day make for each other. This is understandable, but it can make these decisions even more challenging during an already difficult time. Even when a parent does discuss his or her wishes, their loved ones don’t always remember the same details. Advance directives can help.
An advance directive has two parts
An advance directive documents your parent’s preferences regarding medical care in case your parent becomes too sick to make his or her own medical decisions. This could happen over time as your parent ages, or it could happen suddenly due to an unexpected event, like a car crash or heart attack.
Advance directives include two parts. One part is the health care power of attorney. This allows your parent to choose an alternate decision-maker. This person, called an agent or an attorney-in-fact, can make medical decisions on your parent’s behalf.
The other part of an advance directive is the living will. This details your parent’s wishes for or against
Being proactive may not have to be uncomfortable
Talking about advance directives with a loved one can be challenging because you and your parent both probably want to avoid thinking about the day this document may be put to use. It is often uncomfortable to think about serious illness, serious injury, death and loss. However, an advance directive only works if it is created before it is needed.
To help make it easier to talk about, try focusing on the benefits an advance directive will have on your parent and the rest of your family. Your parent can make choices now, which allows him or her some control over a situation that may otherwise feel out of control.
Also, having that clear direction can help your family unite in a time of need with the knowledge that your parent’s wishes will be honored. Without written directions, a family could be divided with some members believing in one course of action and other members believing in a different course of action.
Other tips for the discussion, include:
- Introduce the topic gracefully. This could include a description of someone else’s recent experience, a story you saw on the news or an upcoming life transition.
- Consider sharing your concerns. While the advance directive is about your parent’s wishes, it may help your parent to hear why you feel it is important. For example, you might be concerned because you want to do a good job helping your parent if the time comes and you don’t know what your parent would want.
- Set a good example. An advance directive isn’t just for the elderly. A tragic accident could happen at any time, so it is often best to be prepared as early as possible. By setting up an advance directive yourself, you may encourage your parent to do the same, and you may be in a better position to help him or her through the process.
Talking you your parent now about advance directives can help protect your parent and your family. You may never know when a loved one could become incapacitated. However, you can help make sure your loved ones are prepared, in case that time comes.