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Advanced Care Planning – It’s Not Just for Your Grandparents

  • July 25, 2019
  • Patients and Families

Many people have heard of the term “advanced care planning.” Advanced care planning is the process of making and documenting decisions about the medical care you want to receive if you ever become unable to make medical decisions for yourself. However, it is a common misbelief that advanced care planning is meant only for people who are nearing the end of their life. Medical crises happen every day, leaving people either temporarily or permanently unable to make their own medical decisions. The purpose of advanced care planning is to ensure that that you always have a voice in your own medical care, no matter what happens.

Did you realize that advanced care planning can include your preferences regarding future mental health treatment? It can be used to plan for the possibility that someone may lose capacity to give or withhold informed consent to treatment during acute episodes of psychiatric illness. Duke University maintains a national resource center on psychiatric advance directives that provides background information and a guide to laws in each state.

family discussion.jpgSo, if advanced care planning is not just for the elderly, then when should I be thinking about it? The short answer is, it is never too early to start. We know that advanced care planning can benefit people of all ages. Studies have shown that advanced care planning is associated with reduced expenses for patients and their families. It improves patient satisfaction in their medical care. It also reduces stress, anxiety, and depression in family members who are helping their loved ones navigate difficult medical situations.

So, if advanced care planning is such a great thing, then why has it not been recommended to you before? Advanced care planning is a preventative part of our medical care. As with other areas of our health, it is easy to take for granted our ability to make our own medical decisions until we are no longer able to do so. There is no way of knowing when advanced care planning could be useful to you, and it is possible that you may never need it. But, if you are looking for an easy way to make an impact in your future medical care, advanced care planning is a wonderful way to start. To begin the process, consider these tips:

1. Reflect on the parts of your medical care that are most important to you.
Every person has different values when it comes to their medical care. For some people it is important that they receive every treatment possible. Others prefer no medical interventions at all. Most people fall somewhere in between. There is no right or wrong answer – the important thing is identifying where you fall on the spectrum and how you want those preferences to influence your future medical care.

2. Start a discussion with your family and friends about your medical preferences.
After deciding on your preferences, the next step is sharing them with the people close to you. For many people, it can be uncomfortable to talk with others about something as personal as their medical preferences. Some people find it easiest to start with one trusted person and slowly branch out to others. Your health care provider can also help facilitate a discussion with your loved ones if you do not feel comfortable doing so yourself.

3. Work with your health care provider to document your wishes.
Your health care providers can be a very helpful resource during the process of advanced care planning. If you have questions along the way, do not hesitate to reach out to them. They can also help you complete the proper paperwork to make your medical wishes an official part of your medical record.

Everyone wants to receive the best medical care. However, what the best care looks like can vary significantly depending on a person’s values. That is why it is important that you tell others about your medical preferences. For more information on advanced care planning and step-by-step guides, visit Prepare for Your Care.


Claudia L. Reardon M.D.

Associate Professor
University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health


Danika Johnson

Medical Student, University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health

Medical leadership for mind, brain and body.

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