End-of-life issues may be hard to talk about, but that doesn’t make them unimportant. In fact, by embracing the discomfort and discussing some of the challenging decisions we will all face, whether as we age or as our loved ones do, the realities of managing this season of life can be made easier.
According to The Conversation Project, while 92 percent of Americans say that talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care is important, only 27 percent have actually done so. A full 95 percent say they would be willing to talk about their own wishes, and more than half even say they would be relieved to discuss the issue. National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD), held in 2019 on April 16, is an initiative of The Conversation Project in collaboration with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to inspire, educate, and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.
It’s never too early to start a conversation about the medical care you would want in the future. Advance care planning involves learning about the types of decisions that might need to be made and the tools available to let others know a patient’s wishes.
- A living will documents what kind of medical treatments a patient would want or not want.
- A health care power of attorney documents an agent, or the person a patient has selected to be the voice for health care decisions when the patient is unable to speak.
- Aging With Dignity offers its “Five Wishes” template for recording medical treatment preferences. It meets legal requirements in 42 states, including Colorado. People in other states often attach it to their state forms.
Though documenting health care wishes is a critical part of end-of-life planning, this should be a process that focuses on conversations among friends, families, medical providers, and health facilities.
If it feels awkward to begin those conversations, The Conversation Project has a number of resources, including a conversation starter kit that provides guidance for talking with loved ones about end-of-life wishes before a medical crisis hits as well as How to Talk to Your Doctor to make medical decisions easier once they need to be made.
The Conversation Project emphasizes having a conversation about values, “what matters to you, not what’s the matter with you.” Some early questions to consider might include:
- If you were to become severely ill, what is most important to you?
- Are there treatments that you would or would not want?
- Who will you designate to understand your wishes and communicate them to your doctor, hospital, and family members?
Addressing the realities of health care at the end of life can mean that fewer people encounter health care they would not choose, and more loved ones can be relieved of the guilt and uncertainty that often comes with a medical crisis.
In addition to the information listed above, other resources are available to help make advance care plans and begin the conversations about medical wishes: