What is a DNR and Why Would Seniors Want One?


What is a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order?

A DNR is a signed medical order written by a doctor.

DNR stands for Do Not Resuscitate and tells health care providers and emergency medical personnel not to do CPR on your older adult if they stop breathing or if their heart stops beating.

The DNR is only a decision about CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

It does not affect any other treatments, such as pain medicine, other medicines, or nutrition. For doctor’s orders about other end-of-life treatments, your senior may want a POLST instead.

We explain why your older adult might want a DNR, the difference between a pre-hospital and a hospital DNR, how to get a DNR, and how to make sure it’s easily accessible in case of an emergency.



Why would seniors want a DNR?

If your older adult has already decided that they don’t want CPR, this form allows them to make sure their wishes are honored in an emergency.

Without a DNR or POLST, emergency medical personnel are required to do their best to resuscitate someone who is not breathing or doesn’t have a heartbeat.

They cannot stop these efforts without a signed medical order, no matter what you say.


The difference between pre-hospital vs hospital DNR

DNR forms are used in hospitals so the staff will know how to respond in case of an emergency.

However, there are also DNR forms that can be used outside of a hospital by emergency medical personnel or in assisted living. Those are often called pre-hospital DNR.

Make sure you have the form that’s right for your older adult’s current situation. Some people may need both.


How to get a DNR

After talking with your older adult, discuss their CPR preferences with their doctor.

The doctor must sign the official DNR form and should have access to the appropriate forms for your older adult’s state.

To prevent the DNR from being rejected during a medical emergency, make sure the form is filled out accurately and completely.


Make sure the DNR is easily accessible

A DNR can only be honored if people know it exists.

Notify doctors, nurses, caregivers, family members, and assisted living staff about your older adult’s wishes and show that they have a signed DNR.

Make sure doctors, hospitals, and assisted living communities have the DNR and/or file or posted prominently in your older adult’s room.

Print copies for your hospital essentials kit and for family members. Also post it prominently in your older adult’s home – emergency medical teams are likely to look for it near their bed or on the refrigerator.


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: The Scientific Student


  • Reply November 25, 2019


    Thank you for this article.


    • Reply November 25, 2019


      You’re welcome! We’re so glad it’s helpful.

  • Reply April 5, 2019

    Gerald J. O'Grady

    All of this information suggests that a person should have a DNR, rather than NOT have a DNR. Too many people, seniors in particular, are convinced that if rescusitateed, they would have to live life on artificial life support, which is simply not true. (This was the reason my mother gave me when she told me she did not want to be “brought back” if she went into cardiac arrest.) – – – I told her: Mother, one has little or nothing to do with the other – – – but she just didn’t comprehend the distinction. – – – Subsequently, she signed a DNR and, after receiving a head injury from a fall, 911 just let her go when, most likely, they could have revived her. DNR’s are misleading!!!!!!!

    I am convinced that an untold number of people wrongly make the choice to sign a DNR for reasons that are not applicable to the potential of living a normal, useful life if they are resuscitated following a cardiac arrest.

    If you were to ask these same people to sign a form saying: “Yes, I want to die” – they would not sign it. But, because of the misunderstanding of the effects of resuscitation, they sign a DNR.

    Go back to the drawing boards people!!!!!!!!!! You are misinforming and killing our seniors.

    • Reply June 8, 2019


      I’m sorry for your loss.

      This article explains what a DNR is, what treatments the document covers, and how to put it into place.

      Each person needs to make the choice that’s right for them and needs to be aware of the facts before they can make an informed decision.

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