An Advanced Directive May Make Your Last Days, Better Days

An Advanced Directive May Make Your Last Days, Better Days Image

In our last blog, we talked about the importance of being very specific in an Advanced Directive about receiving food and hydration when you cannot speak for yourself, potentially because of late stage dementia.

A recent article in Time magazine addresses another common medical procedure which often violates a patients’ wishes: the use of breathing machines.

If a patient arrives in an Emergency Department with difficulty breathing, staff may quickly suggest a breathing machine.

An excerpt from the Time article describes the procedure: “If placed on the breathing machine, a plastic tube is inserted through the mouth down to the lungs, and you are unconscious — uncomfortable and unable to communicate with others. This arrangement will likely require other invasive measures, like inserting catheters into deep veins and the bladder, to maintain human physiology ….

“Breathing machines were originally designed to reduce the work of breathing until surgery, an infection or some other acute critical condition was resolved. But they are now commonly used for seriously ill older adults. If they are lucky enough to survive, they often require prolonged time in hospitals and then, for days to weeks if not months, a rehabilitation facility.”

According to research by the author of the article, 50% of patients over the age of 90 are likely to die while on a breathing machine. About 14% recover and go home and the rest are removed from the machine and need rehabilitation services.

When we advise clients about Advanced Directives, we tell them to talk about what they want to the person who will make medical decisions for them if they cannot. Seniors want to be comfortable at the end. They want to be home if possible and they want to be able to communicate. Being connected to a breathing machine denies communication with loved ones.

We need to let our designated agents and family know how we want to be treated in advance and to ask for alternatives, such as intensive breathing treatments which would allow us to be conscious. If your family knows what you want, they can make better decisions for you – the decisions you want --  not what some stranger suggests.

By considering your options when you can think clearly and tell your loved ones what you want, you can make this part of your Estate Plan. Taking these steps today may make all the difference later.

Here’s a link to the Time article: