A family member has asked you to make health care decisions for her. You are honored and a little scared. It is a compliment that someone trusts you with their very life, but it is also daunting. As the weight of the responsibility sinks in, you may wonder what you are supposed to do. If you are a decision maker for the health care of a loved one, check out these helpful tips.
Talk with your loved one
The only way to understand your loved one’s beliefs and wishes is to have at least one long talk with him. How does he feel about life support? Talk with him about the different levels of life support. Some people will receive respiratory support, but perhaps not nutritional and hydration support. Does he comprehend the consequences of having one type of assistance but not another kind?
Your loved one might have life support for a limited amount of time, but not beyond a certain point. She might be receptive to going on life support, if her heart stops beating, but not if she is “brain dead.”
Many people's deeply-held spiritual beliefs impact health care decisions. Your job is not to change those beliefs or impose your will. Your task is to decide he would have made, if he had done so. Discuss whether he will want last rites or another sacred ritual performed in his last moments.
Take care of the legal requirements
Meet with a local elder law attorney to make sure all the documents Alabama requires are prepared and signed. Make sure these papers give you rights of access to your loved one’s health information and grant you the authority to make decisions.
Provide a copy or second original of the documents to your loved one’s doctor. Carry a copy with you, when your loved one is hospitalized and make sure a copy is in the hospital chart. Contact the hospice department of the hospital to confirm they know that you are the health care decision maker. Give the hospital, doctor and hospice office multiple ways to reach you at a moment’s notice.
Have your elder law attorney explain to you your duties and your rights as the decision maker. You are in a stronger position to advocate for your loved one’s health care, if you are confident in your legal authority.
Educate yourself on your loved one’s medical conditions
It is hard to make sound decisions about a person’s health care, if you do not know of her medical conditions. Make a list of all medications she takes and the dosages. Know her medical history, blood type, whether she has any allergies to medications and her dietary restrictions. Be informed to where you can give a full medical history upon a hospital admission.
These tips can empower you when making health care decisions for your loved one. The laws on powers of attorney for health care decisions are different in every state. Talk with a local elder law attorney about the laws governing health care decisions in Alabama.
National Elder Law Foundation. “Six Tips for Health Care Decision Makers.” (accessed July 5, 2017) http://www.nelf.org/six-tips-for-health-care-decision-makers/
American Bar Association. “Ten Legal Tips for Caregivers.” (accessed July 5, 2017) https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/law_aging/caregiving_ten_tips.authcheckdam.pdf