If you could tell your loved ones that they will feel less anxiety, stress and depression after you die, would you take the steps now to make this happen? End of life planning has benefits for you also. You will spend less time in the hospital, have a closer relationship with family and friends, have a greater quality of life and experience relief and a sense of completion. And by completing a health care directive, you could contribute to reducing health care costs overall. When no instructions or spokesperson is designated, money is spent when it might not have been.
I have read that about 35% of adults over 18 have an Advance Health Care Directive. Why is it only a third of the population? Lack of awareness is one reason. People considering themselves healthy and not needing a directive is another reason. Some folks think it cost to prepare this document, and that it will take too much time. Others want input from their doctors or other health care providers and haven’t broached the subject. And of course the famous “I’ll get to it later” pops up a lot.
1. Do it now!
While you have your smarts about you, take the time to discuss, research and complete an advanced directive. Avoiding this task and risking a crisis could lead to making decisions when clarity of thinking is not happening.
There are 2 main parts of a health care directive. 1 – choosing an agent/proxy to make the decisions for you when you are unable to make them yourself and 2 – specifying what your wishes are. Both of these will take time to consider and are very important decisions that only you can make. There are options for which document to complete. I use the Five Wishes created by the non-profit organization, Aging with Dignity. This document also covers emotional, spiritual and physical wishes. Hospitals often make this document available, as do attorneys. Find one that you are comfortable with and start the work.
2. Discuss your wishes with your health care providers.
A study done at Stanford found that 99% of the doctors were not comfortable talking about death with their patients. Whoa! I find this to be amazing. It is up to us, you and me, to lead the conversation with our providers. We need them to be informed about what we want, be an ally in making this happen and help us understand the wishes we want. Many doctors do not know that this document is on file. So, have those conversations.
3. Speak to your family and friends about your wishes, especially those you designate as your agent/proxy.
I have heard that people were named as agents and not told about it. Can you imagine the scene when someone gets the call that they were named agent for a loved one who is in critical care and have no idea what their wishes are. Would that person confidently, willingly and ably engage with doctors to decide your fate? Yikes!
Set up time to talk to your agents, family and friends about the decisions you are making. If at all possible, get all your agents together so they hear the same information and can ask questions for clarification when all are present. You can also give copies of this important document to those agents and family members. Your health care provider and hospital also need copies.
4. Update your document as you gain more information, experience and knowledge.
As time goes on, your life changes as does your health and relationships. Reviewing your document to make sure it is current and relevant is critical to having a document that will serve you at a time of need. I suggest that you review your advance health care directive at least every five years. When you get older and your health changes, review it annually. I also suggest that you listen well to stories of other people experiences. This will help you get clarity about your wishes, intention and values.
If you want a dignified death, do the work now to ensure that it will happen. You will rest easier!
Here are resources that can guide and assist you in researching the process, completing the document and having the needed conversations.