Advance care planning has been a hot topic among end-of-life professionals for a long time. But what exactly does advance care planning mean and why is it so important?
Advance care planning is the process of making and documenting decisions about the healthcare you would want to receive if you are unable to speak for yourself. Advance care planning includes discussions related to end-of-life wishes; advance care directives are the documents that will help you record those wishes. Many people hold the misconception that advance care planning is solely for older adults; however, adults of all ages need to communicate their wishes. Healthcare emergencies, whether an accident or sudden onset of illness, isn’t a respecter of age. We are all susceptible.
In the state of Indiana, advance care directives are forms that record your wishes, as well as who you designate as your healthcare representative. These documents typically include a healthcare representative form, a DNR (do not resuscitate) or life-prolonging form, and a living will. Having the appropriate documents in place is important because they extend your choices beyond your ability to speak for yourself. Each of us has the right to have healthcare choices honored. Decisions regarding your care preferences at or near end-of-life are yours to make. Discussing these decisions with your loved ones, and documenting them will help your loved ones know what to do, should the need arise.
If you do not have any documents in place yet, starting the conversation is an important first step. Often, when plans are not in place, family members are worried about having to make decisions for you, or there may even be disagreements within the family about what you would want. For example, if you were in a serious accident and couldn’t speak, who would make those decisions for you? Having plans in place can allow family members to focus on being there for you in your time of need. Here are some points to consider when beginning the planning process:
- Focus on choosing a healthcare representative who will honor your wishes if you are not able to speak for yourself. Not everyone can do this. Having discussions with your loved ones can help determine who is best able to be your representative.
- Document your wishes with a living will. This details your wishes regarding medical treatments and gives your healthcare representative direction should they have to make decisions on your behalf.
- Consider completing a DNR or life-prolonging document as well. Many people believe CPR will result in a successful outcome; however, this may not be the case, particularly when it’s done outside a hospital setting, or on elderly people or those with a serious illness. The choices you make in your 30s or 40s may be very different than those you may make when you’re in your 70s or 80s. As you have children or as they grow up, your decisions may change. By beginning the conversation, you are allowing yourself to share with your loved ones your wishes at that time in your life. These documents are something to be revisited every few years or when major life events happen so you can be sure the care you have outlined still fits your end-of-life care wishes.
Having these conversations can be difficult but there are local resources that can help facilitate them, including Center for Education & Advance Care Planning (CEACP) – the educational arm of Center for Hospice Care. Because of the generous support of the Vera Z. Dwyer Charitable Trust, CEACP is able to hold family-friendly events throughout the year that are geared towards normalizing conversations about end of life. “Death by Chocolate” and “Cupcakes to Die for” combine information and fun to help make these hard-to-initiate conversations easier.
Participants answer trivia questions and discuss possible answers with others at their table while enjoying decadent desserts. These events can be modified for companies to offer to their employees or clients. The Vera Z. Dwyer Charitable Trust also supports panel discussions throughout the communities we serve. These sessions bring together area experts such as financial advisors, elder law attorneys, bankers, funeral home directors, and others to discuss the full range of end-of-life issues. These discussions allow community members to ask questions about a wide range of topics in a comfortable, non-threatening setting. Each of these events is designed to help guide participants towards having conversations with their loved ones. One avenue available is facilitated conversations with an Honoring Choices® Indiana – North Central certified facilitator. This non-profit organization is housed at Center for Hospice Care and is dedicated to promoting and sustaining advance care planning. The organization provides facilitators (at no charge) to make conversations about advance care planning easier. Honoring Choices facilitators can work with individuals to complete their advance directives or lead group conversations about end of life.
For more information and resources regarding advance care planning, please visit https://educate4endoflife.org/ .