If you were in a catastrophic accident tomorrow and left in a coma, do you have any legally binding instructions regarding your preferences for treatment and care? Have you ever talked to a family member about what you would want in such a situation?
This is not something anyone wants to think about, but life is unpredictable.
Data indicates it is actually more likely that when we do die, it will not be the result of a sudden and catastrophic event. However, it is important to start planning before the need is urgent, particularly if you already have a diagnosed chronic illness or a family history of illness.
According to Advance Care Planning Australia, around four in ten Australians are not able to make their own end-of-life medical decisions. Instead, they have to rely on medical professionals and family members to make those decisions for them. Why? It all comes down to planning.
In fact, a diagnosis of chronic illness or cognitive impairment (such as dementia) should be a catalyst to start planning if you haven’t already. Consider it a wake up call and, along with seizing the opportunity to live your best life while you still can and tick some items off your bucket list, get serious about what kind of support and care you would want (and wouldn’t want) in the future.
Record your wishes while you are still able to communicate them. In the case of cognitive impairment and dementia, the issue of legal capacity becomes an important consideration. A person living with dementia will likely lose the legal capacity to make or record important life decisions as the disease process progresses. This can occur before other impacts, and while there is still the capacity to enjoy life. The dementia journey is different for each individual, and it is hard to predict when capacity will be lost. It is important to finalise the conversations and decisions before this loss of capacity occurs.
Research has shown that families of people who have engaged in advance care planning have less anxiety and stress when asked to make important healthcare decisions for other people. Think about the important people in your life… your spouse, children, siblings, parents. How would you feel having to make such important decisions on their behalf? An Advance Health Directive, an Advance Care Plan, appointing a Guardian or at the very least an ongoing discussion with family members can take some of the stress and anxiety away during difficult times.
Every Australian adult should think about advance care planning and to drive that point home, later this month is Advance Care Planning week.
Advance care planning starts with a conversation, and Advance Care Planning Australia has some great conversation starters. Get talking, and find out about the wishes of your loved one. If you have questions around treatments, discuss it with your GP. You can also call Advance Care Planning Australia for advice.
Surely it is better to have started the conversation, than to never discuss it at all.