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If you have recently been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, you may be wondering what steps, if any, you can take to ensure that your wishes regarding any future medical decisions will be honored, even when you are no longer able to voice your preferences. In short, you’ll need to make your wishes known while you are still mentally capable of doing so. And the best way to do this to have a durable power of attorney for health care.
Because a dementing illness such as Alzheimer’s disease interferes with a person’s cognitive capacity and usually leads to a complete loss of the faculties needed to make decisions (the legal term, “incompetent”), all states in the U.S. allow residents to name a substitute decision-maker in a durable power of attorney. This is a legal document that comes into effect only after you become cognitively incapacitated. You may have a durable power of attorney for finances and a separate durable power of attorney for health care.
Although laws vary from state to state, in general, the person you name as your substitute decision-maker in a durable power of attorney for health care has broad authority to make all health-care decisions for you, including the ability to:
Agree to, refuse, or withdraw consent for medical care, treatment, surgical procedures, tests, or medications.
See your medical records and information to the same extent that you are entitled to.
Authorize your admission to or discharge from any hospital, nursing home, residential care, assisted-living or similar facility or service.
Contract for any health-care-related service or facility.
Apply for public or private health-care benefits you may be entitled to.
Hire and fire medical and social service providers and support personnel.
Authorize your participation in medical research related to your medical condition.
Importantly, you can use a durable power of attorney ?for health care to provide guidance about your wishes regarding your medical care, and, legally, your substitute decision-maker must be sure that all decisions made on your behalf are in accordance with those wishes.
You can find and download a simple “universal” health-care power of attorney form as well as instructions on how to prepare it at www.americanbar.org (search for “giving someone a power of attorney for your health care”). Be aware that some states do not permit the use of a universal form or have other special requirements.
Last, but not least, after your document has been prepared, dated and signed before witnesses— and in some cases notarized—be sure to distribute copies to your family and doctors.