It always seems too early, until it’s too late.While it’s not exactly pleasant to contemplate what our wishes would be regarding a healthcare crisis or end of life, it’s important to express them to those who would have to make those decisions in the event we became incapacitated to make them on our own. On April 17, National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) will call attention to the need for every adult to do some advance care planning to express their wishes regarding healthcare and end of life, and for providers and facilities to respect those wishes, whatever they may be. If you haven’t already done so, this day is an excellent time to at least begin thinking proactively about the decisions you’d like to make for your own care should a medical crisis occur.
What Kinds of Decisions Are Involved in Advance Care Planning?
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers these steps for planning out what you want to tell your family, friends and healthcare providers about your wishes and personal beliefs regarding continuing or withdrawing medical treatments at the end of life:
- Get information on the types of life-sustaining treatments that are available.
- Decide what types of treatment you would or would not want should you be diagnosed with a life-limiting illness.
- Share your personal values with your loved ones.
- Complete your advance directives (legal documents such as a living will and a healthcare power of attorney) to put into writing what types of treatment you would or would not want should you be unable to speak for yourself.
Starting the Conversation About Your Decisions
A recent survey called The Conversation Project found that while 90 percent of respondents said they thought talking with their loved ones about end-of-life care was important, only 27 percent had actually done so. It can be very difficult to start the conversation…but wouldn’t you rather have the discussion while you’re fully capable than during a medical crisis? Sharing your wishes for end-of-life care can actually bring you closer to your loved ones. As you prepare for having this important conversation, you may first want to make a list of your thoughts or try writing them in a letter to a family member or even practice by talking through it with a friend. And remember:
- The initial conversation is just that. It’s a starting point for talking to your loved ones about your wishes.
- Your family members may disagree with you, which makes it important to keep the conversation going as you work out your plan.
- The conversation may evolve into multiple discussions over time. You don’t have to cover every decision in a single conversation.
Advance Care Planning Resources
There is a wealth of information about advance care planning online. Here are just a few sites that offer free guidance: The Conversation Project has several resources available to guide you in creating a plan that incorporates your decisions about your own health and end of life wishes. AARP has downloadable advance directive forms for every state. The American Bar Association’s Toolkit for Advance Care Planning includes a number of guides to help you navigate through the decision-making process.