Q: What are healthcare directives and why does my elderly parent need it?
A: A healthcare directive is a document your parent signs, giving someone else the power to make health and medical decisions if he or she is unable to speak or make decisions.
Everyone needs such a document because we never know when or if we will become incapaciated. If we are in an accident, have a stroke or are in a coma, someone has to be able to decide what we would want done by the doctors and hospital. If we don't spell out our wishes in a healthcare directive, the decisions are up to doctors who may not know us, or there may be conflicts among our loved ones about what our wishes would have been.
Doctors who don't know what a person wants may keep giving life sustaining measures and using every artificial means at their disposal, even if we are terminal and the treatment won't change the course of our illness or injury. The most important reason for having a healthcare directive is to be sure that our wishes are honored, even if we can no longer say what we want.
A healthcare directive is free, and the form can be obtained from your doctor, hospital, or on the internet. If you need help filling out the form, it can be found at senior centers, from social service agencies, or from an elder law attorney.