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Study Shows Living Wills Especially Valuable for Elderly

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that as many as 1 in 4 elderly individuals needed someone to make end-of-life health care decisions for them. The study is thought to be the first of its kind to measure how many individuals actually require medical decisions be made for them.

These findings reinforce just how important it may be for an individual to prepare a living will or health care directive. While some have criticized the use of end-of-life planning documents as either too vague or not effective, the researchers found that those that did have a planning document usually received the treatment they had requested.

The study reportedly included more than 3,700 people aged 60 or older whom had died between 2000 and 2006. Of those included in the study, about 30% of the individuals needed to have a least one health-related decision made for them because they were not able to make it themselves. The types of decisions that most often needed to be made included the use of breathing machines or feeding tubes.

Approximately two-thirds of those that needed to have decisions made for them had either a living will, a health care directive, or had appointed someone as their health care proxy. After the subjects of the study had died, families members were asked to assess whether the end-of-life planning documents of the deceased was followed. According to the study, most family members agreed that the documents had been followed.

This study may be the only of its kind at this point, but it does provide some reassurance that creating a living will, or designating a health-care proxy can be an effective way to make your wishes known.

Source: Associated Press, 1 in 4 elderly need care decisions made for them, Stephanie Nano, 11/25/10

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