It's not very pleasant to think about our health getting worse as we age. For that matter, it's not pleasant to think about the ever-present danger of accidents and injuries which could change our lives forever. Even so, these are the realities we face, and it is important to consider ahead of time how we will deal with these challenges when (not if) they arrive. One thing we can do is make important personal decisions about health care while we are able to do so, before illness or injury affects our ability to make those decisions. An advance directive can help.
One important choice you can make using an advance directive is who will be your health care representative. A health care representative can receive information about your medical condition and make decisions about your care. If you choose, your representative may even have the power to make end-of-life decisions for you, such as turning off life support or discontinuing tube feeding. For this reason, it is very important to be careful in selecting your health care representative. Keep in mind that as long as you are able to communicate, you will still be making your own decisions. The health care representative only steps in when you are no longer able to express your wishes.
In addition to choosing a representative, an advance directive can also allow you to give instructions to physicians about how to handle your care in certain end-of-life situations. Unfortunately, the form can be very confusing, and there are limits on how effective it can be. Still, your family may rest easier knowing that your preferences are written down, despite the shortcomings of the instruction form.