Aging. We feel it with every ache and pain. We see it in the mirror with every laugh line and wrinkle. We notice it when our friends are swapping doctor referrals for arthritis and knee replacements.
We start planning for it when we are young, with retirement accounts, life insurance and maybe even a will.
While we talk about the physical changes, we often ignore their meaning. We avoid it because it's morbid, scary or perhaps will even jinx us. Then a crisis occurs and no one knows what to do.
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day - an appropriate time to take the steps necessary to assure that your healthcare wishes are known and fulfilled as you age.
Start by asking yourself:
• What is my definition of "quality of life" and what healthcare decisions support that?
• What goals are important if my condition worsens?
• What fears and worries do I have about my future?
• What abilities are critical and how much am I willing to go through to maintain them?
• How much does my family know about these answers?
If, because of injury or illness, you can't make important healthcare decisions, your family will need to speak on your behalf. Who will the doctor ask?
It's time to have a conversation, telling your family the decisions you've made.
If you are unsure how to start, ask your doctor or social worker to help arrange a family meeting or visit begintheconversation.org for ideas.
Then, put it in writing. Complete an advance directive, a written document outlining your healthcare decisions in the event you become terminally ill or have a serious illness and can't speak for yourself.
Completing one is simple. Download the document or ask your healthcare provider for a copy. Fill in the blanks and sign it. You will need a couple of witnesses and maybe a notary, but an attorney is not necessary. You can be specific, or simply name someone to make decisions for you.
In South Carolina, advance directives include: Health Care Power of Attorney, Five Wishes, and Declaration of a Desire for a Natural Death.
You can find more information and comparisons at mylifemychoices.org and download forms from there. Forms are also available at BeaufortMemorial.org.
After you have completed the appropriate form, give copies to your doctors, healthcare facility, and the person you have designated as your healthcare power of attorney. Keep the original in a safe but easily accessible place.
Review your wishes periodically. Our goals, and therefore healthcare decisions, might change as we age. Review your decisions as often as once a year, but it is imperative you review them in case of divorce, diagnosis, decline or death of your chosen agent. Whoever has copies will need to be updated if you make changes.
Preparing in advance gives you some control. Don't put the burden on your family to guess what you want.
Jennifer Massey, a social worker for more than 15 years, is Outpatient Care Coordinator at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.