Suppose you’re getting ready to send your young adult off to college for the first time. In that case, you’ve likely been spending the summer getting college dorm and apartment essentials lined up: bedding, storage cubes, first aid kit, extension cords, dry erase board and other room necessities. But have you thought about what could happen should they get ensnarled in a health crisis away from home?
It’s a hard truth, but some new college students find themselves in scary medical situations their first time away from home. Risks come from excessive drinking, car accidents, or a mental health crisis. As much as one-third of college freshmen account for all college-aged serious illnesses or deaths.
Whether your child is only going to be a couple of hours away from home or moving across the country, you’ll want the peace of mind to know that medical wishes have been discussed and documented. Having an advance directive for your college-bound student can help.
“I’m so glad that I was able to talk to my boys about their medical wishes before they left home,” said April Brumm, a Georgia mom of two young men. “We used the Five Wishes advance directive to make sure that I had peace of mind sending my two boys off to college.”
“I sat down with them, and it was such a wonderful opportunity to talk about what matters most to them and talk about the future and about what it means to be responsible,” continued Brumm.
The first step in documenting medical preferences is to pick a health care advocate. Someone that can be the voice for your child should they not be able to speak for themselves, even temporarily. You’ll want that person to be able to make critical medical decisions as they arise. If no one is selected, you don’t want to lose valuable time while your child is in crisis.
Choosing a health care advocate
- Most health care advocates are parents (or spouses), but they don’t have to be. It can be your child’s friend if that’s their preference. They just need to have their best interest in mind and someone who will be there for them when needed.
- A good health care advocate is someone with good communication skills, empathy, and good in a crisis.
- It’s helpful if they’ve got the ability to get along with a variety of people, which could come in handy if they need to deal with a medical team and different personalities.
Completing an advance directive
- Once you’ve helped your child choose their health care advocate and an alternate, the next step is to decide what kind of medical intervention they want or don’t want.
- Include the health care advocate in your discussion so they know your child’s preferences for medical care. The advocate needs to feel comfortable knowing what kind of treatment has been selected so they can follow the instructions.
- Make sure the advocate knows the name and contact information of your child’s primary doctor and any other medical providers they see.
- Give them a copy of the advance directive, so it’s handy.
Documenting personal and spiritual wishes
An advance directive will take care of your child’s medical and legal needs, but what about how they’d like to be treated during care? Some people like a lot of attention; some don’t. Having their preferences documented will be helpful for everyone.
Five Wishes is one type of advance directive you may consider. It is the only one that meets the legal requirements in all 50 states – which is important if your student is traveling across state lines. The Five Wishes booklet is broken down into five wishes. The first two wishes are both legal documents and will take care of completing the advance directive. Wishes 3 to 5 are unique because they address matters of comfort care, spirituality, forgiveness, and final wishes. It’s where you get to decide how comfortable you want to be, how you want to be treated, and how you’d like to be remembered. Five Wishes is often called the “living will with heart and soul” because it deals with individuals holistically and not just medically.
Why advance directives are important
Completing an advance directive is important for everyone, even those just starting adulthood and heading to college. Four of the most famous cases regarding health care decision-making all involved young people in their twenties: Karen Ann Quinlan, Terri Schiavo, Nancy Cruzan, and Christine Busalacchi.
No one can anticipate an accident or medical crisis, but you can be prepared for one. Having your child’s medical wishes documented in advance will give everyone peace of mind of knowing that you won’t have to guess their wishes in the middle of a crisis. Plus, it saves time communicating with the medical providers because everything has been decided. It allows you the most precious gift of all – time to focus on your young-adult children.
Joanne Eason is an advance care planning expert.
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