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It’s a topic most people don’t want to think about, but it may be one of the most important things you can do for your own health, no matter how old you are. Advance directives give you the power to make decisions for yourself even when you are too sick to think clearly. You do not need to be “old” to take advantage of advance directives. They are valuable for adults of any age. You can decide what kinds of treatment you would want if you were very sick or badly injured. You can designate who you want to make decisions for you if you are not able to think clearly or communicate your wishes to the medical staff. You can even designate what conditions are serious enough that you would not want to receive treatment at all.
Advance directives are the documents that let you specify your health care in advance. Laws about advance directives vary from state to state so it’s important to make sure the documents you use are valid where you live. Advance directives are important for all adults of all ages. While old age may be very far away, none of us knows when a serious injury or accident could send us to the hospital. Advance directives can take effect at any age if you are unable to communicate with medical personnel.
There are actually a variety of different documents that you can choose from to make your wishes known. You can choose to use some or all of them depending on what specific instructions you want to give. These are simple definitions of some of the most commonly used documents:
• Living Will – A living will allows you to give specific instructions about your future health care. A living will takes effect if two doctors determine that you are not able to make medical decisions for yourself and if you meet the criteria you specified in your living will. This could be a diagnosis of an untreatable illness or the need to be put on a ventilator to help you breathe.
• Medical power of attorney – Also, known as a health care proxy, this document lets you chose the person who will make decisions about your health care if you cannot decide for yourself.