Advance care planning is the process of understanding and discussing your future health care wishes and appointing someone to be the decision maker if you no longer are able to speak on your own behalf.
“For surviving loved ones, an advance care plan won’t take the sting out of losing someone, but it will take the sting away from difficult decision making — your loved ones will know exactly what you want and will feel comfortable with your guidance,” said Toni Kesler, palliative care specialist at Community Care, Inc. and an advocate for advance care planning.
According to a national survey conducted by The Conversation Project, an initiative encouraging a proactive approach to end-of-life conversations, 90 percent of adults believe discussing end-of-life care with loved ones is vital, yet only 27 percent have actually done it.
“Many of us know we should be having these conversations, but that means having to think about the future and what might happen,” said Kesler. “We’re a death-denying society. We have to get more comfortable with discussing it.”
Avoiding the discussion now may only create chaos and turmoil in the future as your loved ones are left trying to understand what you would want when you no longer can communicate your wishes yourself.
Setting up an advance care plan can take as little as 30 minutes and involves discussing your values, choices and treatment wishes and selecting a health care agent — most likely a family member or friend — to act on your behalf.
“These conversations should occur when the entire family is together and things are going well,” said Kesler. “We don’t want to have them after a crisis actually happens and it’s much harder to make rational decisions.”
Having the initial conversation is important, but Kesler recommends following it up by putting that conversation in writing. Most healthcare providers can help you develop an advance care plan document.
Community Care is a charter member of Honoring Choices Wisconsin, a statewide initiative aimed at promoting the benefits of advance care planning in health care settings and in the community. For more information on advance care planning or the initiative, visit www.honoringchoiceswisconsin.org.