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Why you should ask your loved ones about end of life care

Written by Diane Archer

Few of us think to ask loved ones about their end-of-life preferences. We may assume that the people we love don’t want to discuss these issues. But, it’s important that we understand and respect their views about the kinds of medical interventions they would want and who they would want to speak for them if they were unable to speak for themselves. So, please consider talking with your loved ones about end of life care, both your own desires and theirs.

Beyond talking about end of life wishes, make sure that your loved ones put their wishes in writing in what are called “advance directives.”  Advance directives are documents that detail a person’s end-of-life wishes. There are two important documents: a living will, which concerns treatment preferences if serious interventions are needed to keep you alive, and a health care proxy or power of attorney, which names a person to speak on your behalf if you are unable to speak for yourself. You can download these legal documents for free here.

Without a health care proxy, a trusted family member may not be able to speak with your doctor on your behalf. Federal law protects your privacy. But, as a result, your wishes may not be honored. That’s why a health care proxy is so important.

A recent meta-study in Health Affairs of 150 studies published between 2011 and 2016, covering nearly 796,000 adults, finds that only one in three adults have advance directives. Not even four in ten people with chronic conditions had health care proxies or living wills.

Here are six reasons why you and your loved ones should create advance directives. And, to learn more about advance directives, watch this Jon Stewart video with Dr. Atul Gawande.

Dr. Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, offers the following advice.

  • Ask your loved ones about their end-of-life priorities. Do it repeatedly over time since their views are likely to change. And, have them complete an advance directive.
  • Find out what they consider their health condition to be.
  • Understand what they would like to see happen if their condition worsens, what they are most afraid of and the tradeoffs they would want to make.

People at the end of life who know about hospice care often choose it because it focuses on alleviating pain and ensuring people’s comfort.  In many cases, Medicare pays for hospice care at home.  To read a piece Dr. Gawande wrote about a friend at the end of life, click here.  For help finding care at the end of life, visit the eldercare locator.

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