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A medical crisis can occur at any age. Planning ahead for such events is also important at any age.

Not everyone who faces a health crisis, leaving them unable to make important health decisions, is a senior. Advance Care Planning is important to everyone. To make sure that your wishes are conveyed, you will need a Power of Attorney (POA) for Healthcare, a POA for Finances, an Advanced Directive, your Last Will and Testament and ultimately, as you near the last stages of your life, a Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or a POLST document.

If you aren’t able to make health decisions yourself, wouldn’t you want a trusted voice filling in for you? That is your Power of Attorney for Healthcare.

Your POA could be a family member, a friend or your attorney. Make sure your POA understands your wishes and make your designation official with a legal document.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease could leave you unable to handle legal and financial responsibilities. You will need a Power of Attorney for Finances. Advance care planning will help you designate the person or people who you want to assume those responsibilities when you are unable.

Decisions that may come up especially near the end of life are resuscitation, whether you want to be placed on a ventilator and whether long-term artificial nutrition or hydration is acceptable to you.

The time to consider those decisions is before it is necessary. The decisions can be made by you and discussed with the person or people whom you designate to represent you in the event of health crisis or treatment that leaves you unable to respond.

An Advance Care Directive is a legal document detailing your decisions regarding your healthcare. The document also designates who is able to make decisions on your behalf.

If you are paralyzed in an accident, or are in a coma considered to be permanent, do you want to be placed on a ventilator? If you cannot feed yourself, would want to be fed through a feeding tube? Some people would like to live as long as medically possible, regardless of how invasive the treatment may seem to others. Others would only want to be kept comfortable as they near the end of life.

If you don’t have an Advance Care Directive you need to consult with an attorney to complete this. Before that though, you need to consider how aggressively you want to be treated to extend your life in the event of a terminal illness or a medical emergency. It is a very individualized decision and it should also include a conversation with your physician and your family.

You have a newer option to make your medical wishes known. In Illinois, that can be conveyed through a document called the Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST. In Iowa, it is the IPOST, the Iowa Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment. It is a document that is a physician’s order that he/she will give after a discussion with you regarding your wishes. It is the first of its kind that will help your loved ones, the EMS providers and your healthcare provider uphold your wishes.

Wallet cards are available that will tell health professionals that you have an advance directive and the location of the directive.

The Genesis VNA social workers can also provide information and assistance. To contact the Genesis VNA social workers, call (866) 862-2862 or (563) 421-4663.

Dr. Ann O’Donnell, D.O., is Medical Director for Genesis VNA, Hospice and Clarissa C. Cook Hospice House.

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