We will all die at some point. No matter how healthy our lifestyle is or how much exercise we get, all we can hope for is to live as long as we possibly can. We may have started families or have loved ones close to our hearts that we don’t want to leave, but this is inevitable.
Sadly, most people in their advanced years don’t want to think about death, as new research finds that two-thirds of Americans adults have not completed an advanced directive.
Important legal documents
Advanced directives are legal documents that outline a person’s wishes were they to become incapacitated by a serious illness or injury. Advanced directives often include a living will as well.
“Most experts agree that some form of written directives are a key component of advance care planning, and yet rates of completion are low and do not appear to be increasing,” said study leader Dr. Katherine Courtright. She is an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Palliative and Advanced Illness Research Center.
The researchers believe there are barriers that prevent people from completing these documents that need to be addressed on a national level, particularly for those who are chronically ill and have a high risk of critical illness or death.
The team’s research looked into data from more than 795,000 Americans. Only 29 percent of them had completed a living will containing specific end-of-life wishes, while 33 percent were found to have designated health care power of attorney—a representative that will act in the person’s best wishes.
Going out on your terms
The study found that those who were already chronically ill had a slightly higher completion rate. However, the researchers believe that treatments Americans would choose near the end of their lives are different than what they choose to receive while on their death bed.
“Unfortunately, this disconnect can lead to unnecessary and prolonged suffering. Advance directives remain the primary tool for people to communicate their end-of-life care wishes and appoint surrogate decision makers, but improvements to the documents and completion process are clearly needed,” concluded Dr. Courtright.