An Alzheimer's diagnosis is stressful for both patients and families, and the last thing that many people want to do is begin making end-of-life decisions. However, creating a living will (also called advance medical directives) and naming a health care surrogate are both very important steps towards ensuring that your care wishes are followed when your Alzheimer's disease progresses to the later stages and prevents you from making your own care decisions.
When your wishes regarding Alzheimer's care are explicitly written in an advanced medical directive, you spare your family from the difficulty of making these care decisions for you. It also gives you more peace of mind regarding end-of-life care, since you can ensure that your wishes are followed by health care professionals. While it may be a difficult process for you, creating these legal documents is very important after an Alzheimer's diagnosis. To help you with this process, read on for more information about living wills and health care surrogates.
What Is a Living Will?
A living will is a document that notifies health care staff of your wishes once you're unable to make decisions about health care on your own. Your living will can include directives such as whether you'd like to stay at home or moved into a nursing home for end-of-life care. You can also specify which medical interventions are allowed and for what length of time.
For example, many people fear being non-responsive and hooked up to a ventilator for months in a hospital room — in this situation, you can choose to decline ventilator intubation entirely or limit its duration to one week. You may wish to seek your doctor's advice in creating your advance medical directives, as you may not be familiar with all of the treatments used to extend life or care for Alzheimer's patients.
What Is a Health Care Surrogate?
In addition to advance medical directives, you'll also need to name a health care surrogate. This can be your spouse, family member, good friend or member of your faith community. However, it can't be your doctor or another member of your care team.
Not every possible situation can be covered in your advance medical directives. The purpose of a health care surrogate is to be the sole decision maker for any care that's not specifically addressed by your directives. Choose a health care surrogate that you trust to enact your care wishes, and name an alternate surrogate just in case the primary surrogate is unavailable.
Does a Living Will or Health Care Surrogate Immediately Control My Care?
No, your living will and health care surrogate only take effect once you become unable to make your own decisions regarding your health care. This determination is made by your doctor, not your health care surrogate. Until your Alzheimer's disease has progressed to the point where you have difficulty managing your own care, you'll still be able to control all aspects of it.
However, there is a caveat that both will take effect if you become non-responsive due to injury or an illness unrelated to Alzheimer's disease. You will need to think carefully about whether or not your care wishes should apply in such a situation — you may wish to limit your care decisions to only affecting Alzheimer's care or end-of-life care.
When you decide to name a health care surrogate and create a living will, it's best to use the services of an attorney who has experience creating living wills for people with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. A confusing or contradictory advance medical directives can be difficult for health care staff to interpret, which can lead to them making the wrong decisions regarding your care. If you'd like to ensure that your wishes are followed, contact an attorney or a place like Wright Law Offices, PLLC for information about living wills.