Getting old isn’t something anyone likes to think about, but it’s just a fact of life; and, as a result of aging, there are many different changes our bodies go through – both internally and externally. In the event that you were to develop a serious illness and could not make decisions or speak to yourself in regards to things that directly relate to your health and the healthcare you receive, would someone (such as a friend or family member) know what to do? Would they know what your needs, thoughts and wishes were? These are scenarios that we don’t necessarily like to talk about or consider, but it’s something to always keep in mind, because you never know what tomorrow might bring.
So when is it the wrong time vs. the right time to have that discussion? Retirement planning, for example, is something that is often done in advance, and the same goes for advance care planning. The best time to do this is when you are in good health and still able to articulate your wishes, as well as any concerns you have, and it can be an ongoing discussion between yourself, friends and family as your health changes. In fact, research has even shown that talking about your future health goals and wishes can actually improve one’s quality of life. Discussion an advance care plan is in no way a life sentence, nor does it mean you are anywhere close to actually needing to put that plan into action. Having an advance care plan in place, however, helps put minds at ease and allows both the patient and their loved ones to feel more at ease knowing that those goals and wishes will be fulfilled.
The best way to begin the process of putting together an advance care plan is to write things down. It can be as simple as writing down the things you currently enjoy, writing down any current health issues you’re dealing with, and any concerns you have about potential health issues you could be facing later in life. Sometimes thinking about experiences you’ve had with anyone else who may have gone through a health crisis can also be beneficial when deciding what your own advance care plan will look like. For example, writing down a list of names of people you know you can talk to about any fears you have about your health – including your family physician; as well as whether or not you would want certain medical interventions (for example, a feeding tube, dialysis, resuscitation, etc.), as well as a list of individuals who you would want to help make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so. Once you have figured out your specific needs, it’s important to have that conversation with those whom you’ve appointed to be your decision makers. It’s also a good idea to make your family physician aware of your advance care plan so he or she can also document it in your medical file. This ensures that your wishes are clear to everyone.
As our health can sometimes be predictable, it’s also more than acceptable to make changes to your advance care plan. Because of this, it’s also a good idea to regularly review your advance care plan to make sure it is current and that you are comfortable with it. In the event that your primary decision maker is unable to fulfill their duties, it may also be a good idea to list more than one individual. Sometimes, having a few individuals to help you with your needs can actually be less stressful as opposed to having just one.
For more information on advance care planning, download the following guides from HealthLink BC: