Living Wills Ease Patient’s Fear

Lawrence J. Papoff

As Canadians age, they are becoming concerned with the infirmities that aging can bring. And one of those infirmities is Alzheimer's Disease (AD). It is the specter of the Alzheimer patient, unable to fend for herself or himself, suffering a prolonged period of dying, incapable of communicating a decision to end life-sustaining treatment, that has popularized the use of the living will.

Geriatrician Dr. Barbara Clive says she sees an increasing number of living wills in use among her patients, one-third of whom suffer from some form of dementia, most often AD. More and more patients are filling out the paperwork and having discussions with their families about end of life decisions.

A living will, or advance directive, is a written document that contains the will maker's wishes regarding medical treatment and personal care. Taking effect only when the maker is incapable of understanding and appreciating what medical treatment or care is required, it instructs a representative, called an attorney, to decide what treatment should be used, and when it should be terminated. The document may also give decision-making ability to a number of attorneys and provide for resolution of disagreements among them.