What did you want to be when you grew up? Maybe you envisioned yourself as a doctor saving lives, a builder of buildings, a singer, a model, a writer or a designer. Whatever your dream, at some point you had to scale it to fit your own reality. For most of us, that meant making choices and plans to get us as close to our dream as possible, while still meeting the obligations of adulthood.
Making end-of-life plans for yourself or a loved one seems like a much more daunting process – yet, in many ways, it’s the same. The end of your life is still very much a part of your life, and you should exercise your right to choose what will happen. You can make that choice by establishing a special plan called an Advance Directive.
Advance Directives allow you to declare the kinds of medical care you wish to receive, and to be clear about what you do NOT want. They are legal documents that give you control over what will happen to you, even if you become too ill to make decisions on your own.
A plan should also be in place for making changes and decisions that may not be covered by your Advance Directive. As long as you are competent, you are the only person who can decide what medical treatment you want to accept or reject. But if you are in no condition to decide, it’s important for you to grant someone else the legal right to make those decisions on your behalf. This can be accomplished with a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care or a Patient Advocate Designation. The person you appoint can then follow your written or spoken instructions about medical treatment.
If you or a loved one receive a terminal diagnosis from a physician, hospice care should be included in the planning process as early as possible. Studies support the benefits of early hospice referral for better pain and symptom management and control. Early referrals also lead to higher patient satisfaction, better quality of life and lower health care costs. In many cases, a person who gets into a hospice program early lives a longer, fuller life than one who continues aggressive treatment with its side effects, financial impact and time away from family. Hospice should not be the last resort.
A plan that can be referred to, changed, updated and eventually followed can bring peace of mind, as well as open communication between the patient and family members. It takes away the burden of decision-making at a time of high stress and conflicting opinions. Don’t worry about making the “perfect” decisions now – just make a plan that preserves your control over this important life stage. Knowing your wishes will help give your loved ones the confidence and courage to honor them.
A Community Conversation Flyer – An invitation to planning!