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Let’s talk about End of Life and Advance Care Planning

Because it’s always too soon until it’s too late. Whether it is denial, avoidance or procrastination some of us just plain don’t want to deal with an issue that is as intensely emotional as considering completing End of Life wishes documents. Unfortunately as the saying goes “It’s always too soon until it’s too late”. We are all going to encounter the dying process ourselves or with someone close to us. One right and opportunity available to all of us is to let loved ones and our medical providers know the values and personal choices that are important to each of us. Through completing Health Care Proxy and Advance Care documents, when it comes time that decisions for advance care may be needed, we have already let others know what kinds of care we would like to have and honoring the way we have lived.

April 16 is National Health Care Decision Day. A very helpful online resource for helping this process is www.honoringchoicesmass.com. The Getting Started Toolkit can be downloaded at no cost. The information contained walks through the process of thinking through and completing important directives, whether that be choosing a health care agent (proxy), discussing wishes with healthcare professionals or initiating the conversation with family members. Step by step individuals will get a sense of what needs to be done to be better prepared for the future. Another very helpful and engaging online resource is www.theconversationproject.org. This site also walks users through the process, and it helps to identify those values important to the way one lives, and how to carry that through to end of life care decisions.

Typically people tend to think of end of life decisions being only applicable to older, disabled or very ill persons. None of us knows for sure what tomorrow is going to bring. Any adult over the age of 18 can take charge of their health care decisions by executing this document. This is all about personal choices and not what others would want. Facing the death of a loved one is never easy but knowing in advance what the person’s wishes are takes away some of the agonizing decisions which may be needed to be made. When wishes have not been clearly expressed it can lead to disagreements within the family, self-doubt and nagging questions of “did you do the right thing”.

All families face the challenge of someone having the courage to introduce this topic. Surveys show that 75% of Americans believe in the importance of having an Advance Directive, but less than 20% actually complete a Health Care Proxy and Advance Care Directive. Opening up the conversation allows family members peace of mind and the gift of spending time with loved ones at end of life, knowing they are honoring the way that person lived and their choices at end of life.

Kim Flowers
Clinical Director, CIU Protective Services
Elder Service of Merrimack Valley, Inc.