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Honor End-of-Life Wishes With a POLST Form


A POLST supplements a living will

One of the main goals of planning for end of life is to help your older adult document their wishes.

That way their preferences can still be carried out even if they’re not able to speak for themselves. A living will like the Five Wishes form helps with this.

But another document that might benefit some older adults is the POLST form. It’s a separate document that specifically covers end-of-life treatment preferences. 

Emergency medical personnel and hospitals must follow the instructions in a POLST because it’s a signed doctor’s order.

We explain what a POLST is, why someone might want it in addition to their living will, who typically uses it, what treatments it covers, and which states legally recognize the POLST form.


What is a POLST?

POLST stands for Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment. It also has different names in different states.

It’s a medical form that’s legally recognized in many U.S. states and specifically spells out the end-of-life treatments that someone does or doesn’t want.

However, a POLST is not the same as a living will or advanced directive

It’s a simple one-page document that’s usually printed on bright pink paper so it’s easy for EMTs and medical staff to recognize.

Medical personnel must follow the instructions on a POLST.

Why have both a POLST and a living will?

Someone who feels strongly about their end-of-life choices may want to have a POLST in addition to a living will.

This is needed because if somebody isn’t breathing or doesn’t have a heartbeat, EMTs and medical staff are required to immediately begin CPR and provide full medical treatment – no matter the person’s age, medical condition, and even if they have a living will saying they don’t want this treatment.

If someone doesn’t want CPR or invasive treatments, having a signed living will isn’t enough to stop them from happening because a living will isn’t a doctor’s order. 

So, if your older adult feels strongly about not being resuscitated or given aggressive treatments during an emergency, having a POLST available will ensure that their wishes will be fulfilled.


Who typically would want a POLST?

A POLST is typically used by seriously ill or frail patients. 

It allows them to specifically choose the treatments they do or don’t want. 

And it makes sure their wishes are honored, especially by emergency medical personnel, hospital staff, and assisted living and nursing home staff.

What does the POLST form cover?

The POLST form is very straightforward.

There are 3 sections with checkboxes to select specific preferences about three types of treatment:

  1. Do you want CPR?

  2. What level of medical interventions do you want?

  3. Do you want a feeding tube?

Which U.S. states legally recognize the POLST?

POLST isn’t legally recognized in every state in the United States yet. 

Check the National POLST website to see if it’s recognized in your older adult’s state and to get additional details.

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team Image: Lumina Hospice & Palliative Care

This article wasn’t sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. For more information, see How We Make Money.


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