Having The Talk
By: Mary Ellen Brooks, Silverado Director of Resident and Family Services, Beach Cities
It is hard to imagine that we could ever lose the ability to make our own decisions and for many, this disbelief can overwhelm the necessity to plan for later life needs. Unfortunately, the lack of urgency is often times mirrored by family and loved ones who neglect to take action until it is too late.
According to Nathan Kottkamp, Medical Ethicist and Founder of National Healthcare Decision Day, most of us know we should address these issues with our loved ones but only about one-quarter of us do. According to Kottkamp, “[It is] because people do not want to think about death.”
Yet, those who have gone through the challenge of coordinating care for a loved one can appreciate the value of early planning. Not only can it alleviate the family quarrels that can arise when deciding what is best, but it also gives their loved one the dignity and compassion to continue life on their own terms.
My advice for those who are tentative about discussing the issue with their loved one is to distance yourself from the situation, by reflecting on the experiences of others. Most people have strong beliefs about their care in later life years, but are hesitant to discuss them until there is an immediate need to do so. Sharing the hardships of others who have had to decide what is best for their loved one can inspire others to be more vocal about their own wishes. This open dialogue if the first step to understanding and then formalizing your loved one’s requests.
Completing an Advance Healthcare Directive is easier than some may think. Each state uses a different form, but all can be easily found online and usually require only two witness signatures. These directives will detail personal desires for care and medication through the end of life, but do not come into effect until a physician has deemed the person incapable of making their own medical decisions; either due to cognitive decline or other specified conditions.
For many families the expectation to formulate an Advance Healthcare Directive is not fully understood until a life-threatening crisis is already underway. However, most states stipulate that a directive must be completed before a critical point has been reached. A requirement that some do not realize until it is too late.