According to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, one in four elderly Americans require someone else to make decisions about their medical care at the end of their lives.
Here’s the good news: the study found that planning improved the likelihood that a patient’s wishes would be followed and reduced emotional trauma among family members. “The results illustrate the value of people making their wishes known in a living will and designating someone to make treatment decisions for them, the researchers said,” The Associated Press reports. “In the study, those who spelled out their preferences in living wills usually got the treatment they wanted. Only a few wanted heroic measures to prolong their lives. The researchers said it’s the first accounting of how many of the elderly really end up needing medical decisions made for them.”
I have long advocated that every adult should have a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions as an integral part of a comprehensive estate plan.
Now for the bad/surprising news: according to a recent article in the Washington Post, five years after the court fight over allowing Terri Schiavo to die, most Americans still don’t draft the legal documents that spell out how far caregivers should go to keep them alive artificially. End-of-life experts estimate only 20 percent to 30 percent of U.S. adults have advance directives, the same as before the Schiavo case. Even in polls of older Americans, who fill out such forms at higher rates, there is little if any change from 2005.
Have you taken the time to clarify your end-of-life wishes, what you want out of your final years, how you want to be cared for, where you want to live and so on? You should have this important conversation with your loved ones, and you should memorialize your wishes in the appropriate legal instrument drafted by a trained attorney.