Have You Faced the Elephant in the Room?
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Four Steps for Planning Ahead
If you’re in a medical emergency and unable to speak for yourself, will your family know what to do? Will they know if you want life-prolonging measures—like tube feeding, breathing machines or dialysis—if you’re unlikely to regain consciousness? Will they know if you prefer to die naturally and peacefully?
These are difficult questions to face and even more difficult to discuss with loved ones. Yet answering these questions now can save your family from emotional anguish and disagreement later. April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day. Recognize the occasion by following these four steps for planning ahead.
1. Complete an advance directive.
Download an advance directive here. Take the time to read and carefully consider the questions it asks about medical treatments and end-of-life situations. Consider choosing a health care agent—a trusted person who will speak on your behalf, if you are unable—and discuss your wishes with your health care agent.
Wait to sign your advance directive until two witnesses and a notary are present. When you’re finished, keep the advance directive in a place where your family can easily find it in a medical crisis.
2. Talk to your family.
Use your next family gathering to talk about your wishes for the end of life. You may show them your advance directive and explain where it’s kept. Your family may resist this conversation, but emphasize that you want to avoid burdening them with difficult decisions if there’s an emergency. Use National Healthcare Decisions Day as your reason for bringing it up.
Talk about the issues raised in the advance directive, but also consider addressing these questions:
- Do I want to die at home or in a medical facility?
- Do I want to be surrounded by loved ones when I die or would I prefer privacy?
- What types of medical treatment do I want or not want near the end of life?
- Who would I want to take care of me if needed?
- Where do I want to be buried? Do I prefer to be cremated?
- What do I want for my funeral?
Don’t avoid discussing death. Ignoring the “elephant in the room” only strengthens the stigma and leads to the turmoil many families suffer when a loved one is near the end of life and their family has not been adequately prepared.
3. Talk to your doctor.
According to research, as many as three-quarters of physicians whose patients had advance directives were unaware that those documents existed. And only 12 percent of patients with advance directives had received input from their doctor. Click here for help talking to your doctor.
You have an advance directive in place. You’ve talked to your family and your doctor. You’re finished, right? No! Values evolve as we age, health fluctuates and families change. That’s why it’s important to revisit an advance directive regularly. For example, if you designated a spouse as your healthcare agent and later divorce, you’ll likely need to update your advance directive.
Mark April 16 as the day you review your advance directive and touch base with your family. For additional help, contact the Counseling and Education Center at 336.621.5565. Speakers are also available to discuss advance care planning with long-term care communities, professional groups, faith communities, book clubs and more.