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
- 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: