An advance directive is a written statement that explains how you want medical decisions to be made if you are unable to make them for yourself.  It is important to think about who should be responsible and what choices they should make on your behalf.  Some states have a standardized or statutory form, while other states allow you to draft your own document.   

A Health Care Proxy is a document which allows you to appoint another person (called a proxy or agent) to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so.  Your proxy should make health care decisions for you according to your wishes or according to his/her assessment of your wishes, including your religious or moral beliefs.  There are two circumstances where a health care agent will be needed: Temporary inability to make health care decisions:  For example, if something unexpected happens while you are having a surgical procedure and are under general anesthesia, and you are temporarily unable to make your own decisions.  

If a health care decision needs to be made, your health care agent may make the decision.    Permanent inability to make health care decisions: For example, if you are in a persistent vegetative state or suffer from an illness that leaves you unable to communicate, your health care agent can be your voice and make your health care decisions.    

A Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to appoint another person (your agent or attorney) to make health, financial, and other legal decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.  For example, your  power of attorney can deal with issues of medical insurance such as choosing health insurance policies for you (selecting you Medicare health or drug plan), paying for health care, and appealing coverage denials, when applicable.

A Living Will describes the type of care you’d like to receive in specific situations if you are incapacitated.  The living will provides information directly for your physician and does not appoint an agent to make decisions for you.  For example, you can express your desire to not be resuscitated if your illness or injury progresses to a certain stage, or you can state that all viable medical options are to be used as aggressively as possible in all situations, or that certain treatments should not be administered under any circumstances.

If you need more information please call your SHIP coordinator, Lynn Hixon, at the DeKalb County Council on Aging at 256-845-8590.  This program is funded by a grant from ADSS through TARCOG Area Agency on Aging.

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