Advanced Care Planning
Advance care planning has typically been considered something that only the elderly or very ill need. However, in truth, everyone over the age of eighteen should seriously consider the kind of care, treatment, and comfort that they would (or would not) want if they were no longer able to communicate for themselves.
According to AARP, only one-third of adults have an advance directive. If advance care planning is so important, why don’t more people have an advance directive?
People often leave off talking about the kind of medical, emotional, and spiritual care that they would want until it’s too late. There is a stigma surrounding death that can vary in strength and style between different cultures, races, religions, and ages. This is because end-of-life issues are scary and difficult for most people to even think about, let alone talk about openly with family and friends. But sometimes, it’s the most difficult conversations that can become the most rewarding.
But I’m not sick or elderly, why would I need an advance directive?
As we all know, reality can often be so much harsher than our expectations and unfortunately, accidents, illness, and unplanned events can and do happen to everyone, regardless of age or health status. More than that, advance care planning is something that everyone will need eventually; as our population continues to age and live longer than previous generations, it becomes more and more important every year. You have the opportunity to change the statistics, and create a positive trend towards better end-of-life decision making, care, and dignity, both now and in the future.
By having a plan in place that describes and records your wishes, you can protect your own choices and provide comfort to your friends and family, even after you are no longer able to tell them yourself.
How does advance care planning protect my voice?
An advance directive is your opportunity to write down and create a legal document that records your choices so that they are followed if something were to happen to you. Otherwise, someone else will make decisions on your behalf…someone who may or may not know what you would have chosen for your own care.
Additionally, an advance directive is really your only opportunity to place something in your medical record that originates from you rather than a medical professional. It’s a uniquely empowering chance to make decisions regarding your own health and put it alongside formal doctor’s orders and medical information.
How does advance care planning protect my friends and family?
When there is no plan of care in place, someone will still need to make decisions on your behalf. Whoever this is will be forced to guess at what the right course of action can do which can cause conflict amongst families, tension between families and healthcare professionals, and guilt for the decision-maker. In a health crisis, the opportunity to come together in support and love is so important and the last thing most families need is to be fighting over what healthcare decisions to make. The peace of mind that comes from knowing the right choice was made; from knowing that your wishes were followed, cannot be understated.
America’s most popular advanced directive is Five Wishes. The Five Wishes document consists of a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care, among other things. With over 20 years of experience in the world of advance care planning Five Wishes continues to be committed to its mission to ensure human dignity through conversations that matter.
What are the ‘Five Wishes’?
- The person you trust to make decisions for you
- What types of medical treatment you would want – or not want
- What is most important for your comfort and dignity
- What important spiritual or faith traditions should be remembered
- What you want your loved ones and healthcare providers to know about you
It is important to go through each wish and carefully think about what you would want in each described scenario. You can include as much or as little detail as you may want and are encouraged to discuss these choices with family, friends, doctors, attorneys, faith leaders, and whoever else may need to know about these decisions.
The Five Wishes are available in 29 different languages (including large print and braille), as well as pediatric and adolescent versions. Five Wishes is written in everyday language and strives to be accessible to everyone in need of advance care planning. However, what really sets Five Wishes apart is its emphasis on conversations about what matters most and a more holistic understanding of what end-of-life care means. Unlike other advance care planning documents, Five Wishes goes beyond just the legal and medical to address a person’s personal, emotional, and spiritual needs as well.
It is important to express your wishes in writing and share them with family and friends. Be sure to follow any witnessing instructions for your state. Finally, make copies of your completed documents to share with your family, healthcare proxy, doctor, lawyer, faith leader, and anyone else who you think may need access to them…these are not meant to be hidden or locked away. Many times, when an advance care planning document is needed time is of the essence, so the easier they are to access, the better!
Written by Alexis M. Jacobs, JD, Partner Relations Coordinator, Five Wishes