Join us for “Health Care Decisions: Planning Today for Tomorrow’s Unknowns,” a free workshop offered by the UVM Medical Center. The class takes place on October 11 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the UVM Medical Center’s Davis Auditorium. This class is offered as part of our HealthSource series of classes. Learn more and register at UVMHealth.org/MedCenterHealthsource. Free parking is available onsite for all classes. 

As we all enjoy the last days of summer warmth in Vermont, many of us are also busy making preparations for autumn. As we renew our benefit plans and make appointments for annual sports physicals for our children, this is also an opportune time to complete advance directive documents.

What’s an Advance Directive?

When it comes to our health, we often do not think about being so sick or injured that we would be unable to speak for ourselves, especially when we are young and busy with work and family. But, a health crisis can happen to anyone and at any age.

Advance directives are documents to guide your doctor and your health care team if or when you are not able. They provide a legal mechanism to appoint a decision-maker and to share important information about your goals and values surrounding future health care needs or at end-of-life. By far the most important thing that can be accomplished with an advance directive is the appointment of a decision-maker—a health care agent — also known as a health care proxy or power of attorney for health care.

A health care agent is someone who knows you well and can communicate on your behalf when you can’t speak for yourself.  Your agent is there to share with your health care team what matters most to you and to voice what you would likely say for yourself.

Historically, we tend think about these documents as only for the 60+ crowd—but, times have changed. Indeed, sudden illness and accident do not discriminate on the basis of age. Everyone 18 years of age or older should complete an advance directive. This is especially important in Vermont where it is not automatically your next of kin who will make health decisions if you become incapacitated.

How Do I Complete an Advance Directive?

These documents are simple to complete, and can be found online.

In Vermont, an organization called the Vermont Ethics Network (VEN), is a valuable resource that can help. Their website contains information about medical decision-making and the tools available to help you document decisions. You can download an advance directive form right from the website.

Once completed, signed and witnessed, be sure to give a copy to your agent, loved ones, primary care physician, and local hospital. You can also register your advance directive with the Vermont Advance Directive Registry where your document will be scanned, stored and readily accessible to hospitals or health care providers.

For more information about advance directives and the forms available in Vermont talk to your health care provider or visit www.vtethicsnetwork.org.

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