Important Medical Forms that Every Senior Needs to Know

living will

The older we get, the more we tend to think about what might happen to us if we became seriously ill. What if a sudden illness or accident left you incapacitated? What if you couldn’t make decisions for yourself? You don’t want vital choices about your quality of life in the hands of strangers. That’s why certain medical forms, such as a living will or a health care proxy, are so important. Part of the reason elderly adults choose to wear a medical alert device is for peace of mind – these forms can provide peace of mind for seniors too.

It’s also important to remember that these forms aren’t just for the elderly. Adults of any age can benefit from having these plans in place. Unfortunately, Health Affairs found that only 36.7 percent of U.S. adults have an advance directive that spells out their wishes. That means that most people are unprotected if they can’t voice their medical and health decisions on their own at the time of an emergency medical event.

Establishing a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

Also known as a Medical Power of Attorney, or Medical POA, this legal document identifies one person as your health care agent, sometimes known as a health care proxy. This is the person who understands your wishes if you were incapacitated and couldn’t make those decisions for yourself. Though one person is in this role, it’s important to designate a backup as well, in the event that your original health care proxy is unavailable. This person can be a spouse, adult child, advisor – such as an attorney – or a friend.

However, it’s important to note that this document must be signed while a person still has their full mental capacity. If a loved one develops dementia or has other conditions that prevent them from being fully aware of what they are signing, it’s too late to turn over power of attorney to someone else. That’s why it matters so much to sign the documents as soon as possible.

Make a Living Will

Also known as an advanced health care directive, this isn’t a legal document, but it does go hand-in-hand with the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. The living will gives very specific instructions to the health care proxy as to what your wishes are. By spelling your wishes out in writing, you save your health care agent from making potentially very difficult decisions on their own – you’ve already made it for them, right there in black and white. They just have to follow through.

Though some see the term “will” and think this document is about end of life care, that’s not the whole truth. Though this document can serve as instructions for end of life care, it also serves you well if you are in an emergency of any kind that requires someone else to step in and make decisions on your behalf. While seniors with various health ailments are strongly encouraged to make a Living Will, adults of any age can benefit from having one.

This guide provides a wealth of information on advanced directives.

What is HIPAA?

When you go to a doctor’s office, outpatient clinic, hospital, or any other medical facility, you’ll be asked to sign a HIPAA form. HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The purpose of HIPAA is to make sure your private medical information is protected. The only way you can get information on a hospitalized family member (unless you are a spouse) is by presenting a HIPAA form that the patient has signed, giving you permission to know their personal medical details.

The HIPAA form can vary from one state to another, so make sure you have what is needed for your state (and surrounding states, in the event that you or a loved one might be transferred to an out-of-state hospital for medical care). This page can help you obtain the correct forms.

An Alternative Form: The Five Wishes

The Five Wishes is a comprehensive set of forms that covers all the instructions you’ll want to impart about who should make decisions for you, what those decisions should be, and more – including how you wanted to be treated, how comfortable you want to be in the event of a serious or terminal illness, and the things you want your family and other loved ones to know. This set of forms is legal in most states and requires the signatures of two witnesses.

Other Forms to Consider

Though the forms listed above are vitally important for seniors, there are others for elderly adults to consider as well:

Financial Power of Attorney

This is a legally binding document that is much like the medical proxy, only it involves finances and property. The person who holds the financial power of attorney should have your best interests in mind and access or handle your finances only when you are unable to do so. Again, this isn’t just for seniors; financial power of attorney is regularly employed by spouses of service members stationed overseas.

Give financial power of attorney only to someone you trust and who has your best interests at heart. It’s often best to give this to someone who isn’t intimately close to your situation, such as a financial advisor who can work closely with your family to manage your funds well.

Do Not Resuscitate

The DNR form is one that most people don’t think about, and for good reason – it pertains to the question of whether you want doctors to go to great lengths to keep you alive if you suffer respiratory or cardiac arrest. Those who have a DNR can still get dialysis, chemotherapy, antibiotics, comfort care, and all sorts of other measures to treat illness and injury. It doesn’t affect anything other than situations that might require CPR or intubation. For instance, a person with a DNR can still receive oxygen and other support, but it can prevent them from the “extraordinary measure” of being put on a ventilator.

(There is one wrinkle, however: According to the American Bar Association, even though you might have a DNR, emergency medical services must, by law, resuscitate you in the event of cardiac or respiratory arrest unless they are presented with that form at the time of the emergency – and even then, in some states, they must perform CPR and other measures if someone calls 911 for help.)

This form must be signed by a physician and by a health care proxy. In some states, even more signatures might be required. This page can tell you what’s necessary for your state.

Important Points to Ponder

Signing significant paperwork like an advance directive is a big decision. There are some things to keep in mind before, during, and after making it official.

·         Though it might seem as though you could sign the papers in the privacy of your own home, this will not make them legally recognized by the medical community. You must sign these forms (in most states) in the presence of an attorney, notary, and/or witnesses, and make a statement to the effect of your mental stability – no one can enter into a legally binding agreement if they are not of sound mind.

·         When you complete these forms, make sure they are easily accessible. Though it makes sense to keep a copy of each at your attorney’s office, those can be tough to get at a moment’s notice. You should have copies of each form in places that are readily available, such as a dedicated folder in a desk drawer. Make sure everyone in the family knows where the paperwork is.

·         Speaking of family, make sure that everyone is aware of your wishes. This can help avoid questions and heartache later. This might be a tough conversation to have because no one wants to think about illness, accidents, or death. If your wishes are in writing and legally binding, there will be little wiggle room for anyone to question what you really want to happen in the event of a life-threatening event. It is best to be clear with your loved ones before an emergency medical event arises and emotions are high.

·         It’s also important to have other things in writing that are not part of these legal documents. For instance, is it very important to your mother that she keep her wedding band nearby, even if the doctors won’t allow her to wear it on her finger? In that case, putting it on a chain around her neck or a bracelet on her wrist can be suitable. Do you want to have certain music playing in your hospital room if you are in a coma or otherwise unresponsive? These are personal touches that have nothing to do with the legal ramifications of the forms you signed, but have everything to do with peace of mind.

·        Revisit the forms on a regular basis. Over time, our thoughts, feelings, and situations can change, and what we wanted a year ago might not be the same thing we want right now. Additionally, the American Bar Association recommends revisiting the forms when: you reach a new decade in age; a loved one dies; you divorce; you are given a significant medical diagnosis; or you start to experience a decline in health.

Here’s some really good news: Just like medical alert technology for elderly adults through Alert1, creating this potentially life-changing documentation is quite affordable. Many attorneys charge only a nominal fee for helping you sign the paperwork, and some do it for free. Call around to your local attorneys to ask about fees and requirements.

When you complete or update any of these forms, make sure to provide your doctor with a copy. Discuss your wishes with your doctor, before and after you create your advance directive, so everyone is on the same page. If you choose a new physician or have other people join your medical care team, make sure they have a copy as well.

Discussing what you want in the event of an emergency or significant medical event can be a very difficult conversation. It can even be stressful to think about. But it’s vitally important to help ensure peace of mind, not only for yourself but for your loved ones as well. Just as thousands of seniors choose an Alert1 medical alarm for safety and security in the event of an emergency, consider these documents as important measures to keep you safe and secure as well.