Tips on How to Begin Necessary Conversations with Loved Ones about Their Care Wishes
By Dr. Elizabeth Glazier, Director of Palliative Care, Wellmed Medical Group in Tampa
April 16th is National Healthcare Decisions Day – A day set aside to encourage all of us to discuss important advance planning health care wishes. It’s an opportunity to begin the process of documenting those wishes as part of routine care before a stressful health crisis arises.
It can be tough to get started. It may even feel a bit awkward, but powerful conversations with family members today can ensure end-of-life care preferences are honored and reduce stress and uncertainty in the future. Planning today means that you can take comfort tomorrow in knowing that your loved ones will receive the treatments they want, and avoid the care that they don’t want at the end of life.
According to a national survey, more than 90% of the people think it’s important to talk about their loved ones’ and their own wishes for end-of-life care, but fewer than 30% of people have actually had the conversation. Many people simply haven’t gotten around to taking the necessary steps to crystallize what they want and to formalize it. Sometimes it’s because people don’t know how to start the conversation with their loved ones.
A great way to start is by thinking about what is most important to you if you or your loved ones were facing a life threatening or progressive illness and then you can move on to thoughtful and open conversations with those you love. Sometimes those conversations can be the toughest, so here are some simple steps to get the conversation started:
· Think about what is most important to you. What are your greatest fears, hopes and goals? Who would you prefer to make decisions on your behalf with your physicians if you could not? How sure are you of your choices? Do you want your chosen proxy to have leeway to change your decisions? Now you are ready to discuss these topics with your loved ones to reach a shared understanding of your desires.
· Talk with your loved ones. Honest communication can help families avoid the stress of guessing what a family member would have wanted. Be open with each other and focus on really understanding the views of those you love. You may find that you and your loved ones may see some things differently. That’s okay. Talk through it, listen and keep an open mind.
· Make it official. Once you’ve had the conversation, formalize your decisions by putting them in writing. There are several ways. An advance directive can help describe your medical wishes when you no longer can. Special medical orders can be developed with your doctor. Finally, a health care proxy identifies your health care agent—the person you trust to act on your behalf if you are unable to make decisions or communicate your wishes.
· Get help. You can find valuable resources to help you think through these issues and make decisions more manageable at www.optumcare.com and theconversationproject.org.
This is a process and it does take some time, but it is well worth it. I have seen firsthand the sense of peace, calm and satisfaction families experience knowing their loved ones wishes are granted, and with these details taken care of you will have more precious and memorable time to spend with your loving family members.