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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Care at the End of Life - Topic Overview

What decisions do you need to make about care at the end of life?

You will face many hard decisions as you near the end of life. Those decisions will include what kind of care you'd like to receive, where you'd like to receive care, and who will make decisions about your care should you not be able to make decisions yourself.

You may hear these terms:

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  • Curative treatment, which is any medical treatment that is given to cure your disease or to try to help you live longer.
  • Palliative care, which helps to provide relief from pain and any other symptoms you may have with your disease. The palliative care team will help coordinate your medical care with other doctors and help you with medical decisions. Palliative care also provides emotional and spiritual support for you and your loved ones.
  • Hospice care, which provides palliative care for people who are close to the end of life.

No one knows when his or her time may come. So it's a good idea to spend some time planning what you want at the end of life. To be prepared:

  • Decide what kind of health care you want or don't want. For example, you can decide whether you want CPR if your heart or breathing stops.
  • Let others know what you've decided. Consider writing an advance directive that includes a living will and a medical power of attorney (also called a durable power of attorney). A living will is a legal document that expresses your wishes for medical care if you are not able to speak or make decisions for yourself. A medical power of attorney lets you choose a health care agent. Your health care agent will have the legal right to make treatment decisions for you, not only at the end of your life but anytime you are not able to speak for yourself.
  • Decide whether you'd like to donate your organs.

Will you have to choose between types of care?

One thing to think about is what type of medical care you want. Some people ask their doctors to do everything possible to keep them alive. This is called curative treatment.

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