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Options for advance directives

Families all over Massachusetts are affected by dementia or similar ailments. It can be difficult to watch a loved one slowly change into someone unrecognizable. Some who have been given powers of attorney may not be familiar with the ailment in question and could be overwhelmed when they are asked to make important medical decisions that they are not prepared to make. While advance directives, sometimes called living wills, are not legally recognized in the state of Massachusetts they can still help those who have been given powers of attorney to make important medical decisions by providing details about which treatments the patient would prefer to use or avoid. 

Many individuals already have a basic advance directive already in place. A basic directive in many situations will cover what the patient would like to be done in more common situations like if he or she is in a coma or otherwise incapacitated. However, details about what treatments the patient wishes the power of attorney to consider with regard to treatments for a degenerative disorder, like dementia, are not always addressed. This can put an immense amount of pressure on those who have been tasked with making medical decisions for the patient and are unfamiliar with the illness in question.

In response to this, some doctors have begun to adopt what is called a dementia-specific advance directive. This document attempts to explain what the patient might expect at different stages of dementia. It then gives the patient the chance to choose which treatment options he or she would prefer. Documents like this could possibly help to relieve some of the stress placed on those who have been given powers of attorney by providing them with information about the treatment the patient wishes to receive and why they wish to receive it. 

At this point, only a few places have adopted these condition-specific advance directives. Massachusetts residents who wish to discuss advance directives or powers of attorney could benefit from speaking with a physician as well as an attorney in their area. The attorney may be able to help ensure that any important information and the client's preferred treatments are effectively relayed to the individual to be given power of attorney, and even if the hospital itself will not honor the directive, the individual appointed can make informed decisions regarding the patient's medical treatment. 

Source: The New York Times, "One Day Your Mind May Fade. At Least You'll Have a Plan.", Paula Span, Jan. 19, 2018

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