If you’re ever unable to express your healthcare wishes, an advance healthcare directive (AHD) can ensure you have a voice in your treatment.
An AHD isn’t just for end-of-life care. It’s also a way to make sure your family and healthcare providers know your preferences if you’re temporarily unable to communicate.
“Even young and healthy people can find themselves temporarily unable to provide decisions about their healthcare.”
An AHD is a legal document that consists of two parts:
- The first part is where you name the person you want to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. (This person is often referred to as your healthcare agent.)
- The second part is where you state your healthcare goals, values, and preferences (also called a living will).
We spoke to Sonja Taylor, a clinical social worker at Cedars-Sinai, about the importance of AHDs for individuals and families.
Why is completing an AHD so important?
Sonja Taylor: It’s helpful to identify those you trust to speak for you regarding your healthcare decision making.
Otherwise you defer this responsibility to someone such as your legal next of kin and your default decision-makers may not always be the best people to advocate on your behalf because of different values, strained relationships, or lack of prior discussions about advance care planning.An advance healthcare directive is a way to make sure your family and healthcare providers know your preferences if you’re temporarily unable to communicate. Click To Tweet
When do you recommend people complete their advance healthcare directive?
ST: It is never too early to complete an advance healthcare directive.
You could find yourself incapacitated—even temporarily—at any time.
It’s important to complete an AHD to ensure you have a voice in your healthcare if that happens.
Your values may change as you grow and continue to move through life. You can update your AHD at any time to ensure it aligns with your wishes.
What are some common misconceptions about AHDs?
ST: I often hear people say AHDs are only for the elderly or people who are dying.
Though AHDs can certainly address issues that come with aging and end-of-life care, even young and healthy people can find themselves temporarily unable to provide decisions about their healthcare.
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Is an AHD different than a living will?
ST: A living will is a part of an AHD where you outline your specific treatment preferences for your agent and healthcare providers.
Do you have advice for younger people who want to have “the talk” about AHDs with their aging loved ones?
ST: It can be helpful to emphasize that the reason for the discussion is to better understand their values and wishes.
Though you may know them well, you don’t want to presume what is most important to them in terms of mental/physical functioning.
You are opening the door to this discussion to give them the opportunity to define these things for themselves.
Why are some people resistant to talking about advance care planning?
ST: Sometimes people don’t realize their families and caregivers can turn to an AHD to understand their goals, values, preferences, and definitions of qualify of life.
Others worry that their death will come sooner if they have these discussions.
I also know some people worry that loved ones and medical care teams only bring it up because something is already wrong.
My department helps support people with these kinds of concerns. We can answer any questions they have about advance care planning discussions.
Cedars-Sinai offers free downloadable advance healthcare directives in several languages along with step-by-step instructions and other advance care planning tools.