Nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t have living wills, or an advanced medical directive stating their care wishes if they’re unable, according to a 2014 study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
A lack of awareness was the top reason for why the majority do not, the report noted.
Experts said there are too many seniors who live without their express wishes known to loved-
ones in cases of emergency or death.
Still, many, like officials at the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) in northwest D.C., work daily to make a little easier the business of final wishes and directives to avoid conflicts among relatives.
And, that’s not easy, said Julia Alexis, vice president at AARP.
“We know that the more planning you do ahead of time, the less difficult it will be for you and your loved ones later. Some start by streamlining their finances or creating a living will,” Alexis said.
AARP offers several books on the topic, including the “ABA/AARP Checklist for My Family: A Guide to My History,” and “Financial Plans and Finals Wishes,” by Sally Hurme and others.
Further, AARP’s website provides expert resources – tools like the AARP Retirement Calculator and the Prepare to Care: Caregiving Planning Guide for Seniors – that may help families struggling with having that important conversation, Alexis said.
The American College of Emergency Physicians notes that an advance directive would include a power of attorney and living will.
It states to an individual’s doctor and, or any healthcare worker what type of care the senior would want if they were too ill to tell someone.
For example, if the individual is in a coma and never wanted to have a feeding tube placed.
A feeding tube would not be placed if this was documented in the living will advance directive.
The senior should know that they’re also able to change the documents at any time, experts said.
The directive is written when the senior is deemed competent and able to understand what their decisions mean and how it will affect them.
Directive prove vital when seniors live alone and are not in regular contact with other family members who may not know or have conflicting views about care.
“Older adults need to let their loved ones know their wishes for their final days,” said Dr. Sara Zeff Geber, author of “Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers.”
“This can be facilitated by a senior living coach, a financial advisor, or simply holding a family meeting. Also, attending group meetings to discuss feelings about death and final days … is a good place to start,” Geber said.
Alexandra Allred, the author of the book, “Operation Caregivers: #LifewithDementia,” said the second half of her work provides lists of what individuals should do about a power of attorney, wills, taking care of property, pets, cars, and other belongings; and how family members can contact neighbors and friends.
The book also details how to close accounts and manage the affairs of the senior, including memory care facilities and long-term health care solutions.
“Why did I write this book? I had two fully functional parents in 2012. By 2014, something was up with my mom. In 2016, my father fell – face plant on the kitchen floor – complete frontal cortex damage and was forever incapacitated. This set my mother’s Alzheimer’s into a frenzy and in one day I had no idea where, or if, a power of attorney and will existed, how to access banks, how to pay bills, what to do about the house, cars, and so forth,” Allred said.
Before being deployed overseas for the Iraq War in 2003, Army reservist Don Morrison filled out military forms that gave instructions about where to send his body and possessions if he were killed.
“I thought, wow, this is mortality right in your face,” Morrison, now 70, told Kaiser Health News in 2017.
With his attention keenly focused on how things might end badly, Morrison asked his lawyer to draw up an advance directive to describe what medical care he did and did not want if he were unable to make his own decisions.
One document, typically called a living will, spelled out Morrison’s preferences for life-sustaining medical treatment, such as ventilators and feeding tubes. The other, called a health care proxy or health care power of attorney, named a friend to make treatment decisions for him if he were to become incapacitated.
“At the moment, I’m very healthy,” Morrison said.
If he were to become ill or have a serious accident, he said, he’d want to weigh life-saving interventions against the quality of life he could expect afterward.
“If it were an end-of-life scenario, I don’t want to be resuscitated,” he said.
Morrison said he’s glad he’s put his wishes down on paper.
“I think that’s very important to have,” he said. “It may not be a disease that I get, it may be a terrible accident. And that’s when [not knowing someone’s wishes] becomes a crisis.”