A family is gathered by the bedside of a loved one who has been seriously ill, and now is likely near the end of life. Each member of the family has a different idea of what should be done and what their loved one would have wanted. That’s the point when the loved one and their family caregivers realize they should have planned ahead and talked about the care they would want in a medical crisis.
Heartbreaking scenes like this happen far too often.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization encourages families to spend time talking about the care they would or would not want long before a medical emergency is at hand. This is particularly important when family caregivers are coping with a serious or life-limiting illness of a loved one.
Advanced Care Planning
Having discussions about one’s health care wishes is part of advance care planning.
Advance care planning involves making decisions about the care you would want to receive in a medical crisis that might be the result of a serious illness or an unexpected accident. Advance care planning also involves deciding who will speak for you if you are not able to speak for yourself.
An essential part of advance care planning involves having these important conversations with your loved ones – and then completing the documents that will reflect your wishes.
Advance care planning also includes:
- Deciding what types of treatment you would or would not want should you be diagnosed with a life-limiting illness or faced with a serious medical crisis. For some people this might include all possible medical interventions while others would prefer to make quality of life a priority.
- Sharing your personal values and beliefs with your loved ones, caregivers and your health care professionals. Additional people to talk with might include a leader of your faith community or close friend.
- Completing an advance directive to put into writing what types of treatment you would or would not want.
- Designating a person as your health care power of attorney (sometimes called a health care proxy) to speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself. In some states, the advance directive form includes the health care proxy, other states make this an additional form.
Resources for Caregivers
Hospice and palliative care providers see how difficult it can be for families that have never talked about care choices and are in a crisis situation. Similarly, they see how beneficial it can be when the priorities at life’s end have been discussed and are clearly understood.
Not only is it important for each of us to clearly make our wishes known through advance care planning but it is one of the most important gifts we can give to our families and loved ones.