Advance Directive Awareness: What Is It and Why Do You Need It?


This month, we will observe Advance Directive Awareness Day. An advance directive (AD) is part of the medical system many people aren’t familiar with, but you or a loved one may need at some point. With that in mind, this post will cover what an AD is, who might need one, and how to set up your own or discuss it with a loved one.

What Is an AD?

An advance directive is defined as “a written statement of a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment, often including a living will, made to ensure those wishes are carried out should the person be unable to communicate them to a doctor.” According to the Patients’ Rights Council, the oldest type of this directive is a living will. These are often made to give the physician power to withhold or withdraw medication if the patient is terminal and unable to make his or her own medical decisions. The signer’s attending physician has the power to carry out the directive, but family members and friends “have no legal standing to interpret the directive,” which may cause friction if the physician is unfamiliar with the patient’s values.Advance Directive

Another type of AD is the durable power of attorney for health care. In this AD, the patient chooses a specific agent to make health care decisions should he or she be unable to do so. The Patients’ Rights Council advocates choosing the agent “with great care” and detailed discussion. A patient need not be terminal for a durable power of attorney to go into effect. The agent must be willing to exercise power of attorney in all situations.

Who Needs One?

Ideally, everyone should consider an AD at some point, but there are a few situations in which they must be discussed early. Consider your AD options if you or a loved one:

  • Show signs of Alzheimer’s or another disease that will affect mental capacity
  • Have a terminal illness or severe/progressive illness or disability
  • Have an occupation with a high mortality or accident rate

How to Talk About Getting One

Many people avoid this subject because it reminds them of their mortality. If you need or want an AD, approach loved ones with gentleness and respect. Emphasize you’re taking this step to ensure your final comfort and dignity, but your focus will remain on enjoying life. If your loved one needs an AD, do not focus on death or incapacitation. Instead, focus on the AD as a cautionary measure – something that will ensure good quality of life as long as that life lasts.

For more information, please contact us at Preferred Home Health Care.