Tips on How to Begin Necessary Conversations with Loved Ones about Their End of Life Care Wishes
April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day – A day set aside to encourage all of us to discuss important advance planning end of life health care wishes. It’s an opportunity to begin the process of documenting those wishes before a stressful health crisis arises.
It can be tough to get started. It may even feel a bit awkward, but powerful conversations with family members today can assure end-of-life preferences are honored and reduce stress and uncertainty in the future. Planning today can help ensure that your loved ones will receive the treatments they want, and avoid the care that they don’t want at the end of life.
According to a national survey by The Conversation Project, more than 90% of the people think it’s important to talk about their loved ones’ and their own wishes for end-of-life care, but fewer than 30% of people have actually had the conversation. Many people simply haven’t gotten around to taking the necessary steps to crystallize what they want and to formalize it. Sometimes it’s because people don’t know how to start the conversation with their loved ones.
A great way to start is by thinking about what is most important to you if you or your loved ones were facing a life threatening or progressive illness. You would start planning and reflecting on what you and your loved ones would want, expressing those desires and having the thoughtful conversation. After all, no one wants to be scrambling for paperwork, evaluating care choices or putting their families through uncertainty.
Here are simple steps to begin the conversation and planning for important end of life health care decisions:
- Start with your loved ones. Honest communication can help families avoid the stress of guessing what a family member would have wanted. You may find that you and your loved ones may see some things differently. That’s okay. Be open with each other and focus on really understanding the views of those you love.
- Think about what is most important to you. What are your greatest fears, hopes and goals? Who would you prefer to make decisions on your behalf with your physicians if you could not? How sure are you of your choices? Do you want your chosen proxy to have leeway to change your decisions? Discuss these topics with your loved ones to reach a shared understanding of your desires.
- Make it official. Once you’ve had the conversation, formalize your decisions by putting them in writing. There are several ways. An advance directive can help describe your medical wishes when you no longer can. Special medical orders can be developed with your doctor. Finally, a health care proxy identifies your health care agent—the person you trust to act on your behalf if you are unable to make decisions or communicate your wishes.
- Get help. You can find valuable resources to help you think through these issues and make decisions more manageable at theconversationproject.org and agingwithdignity.org.
This guest post was written by By Dr. James Mittelberger.