Is There A Way To Make End Of Life Care Better?

June 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Anyone who has had the painful experience of caring for a loved one at the end of their life knows it is hard to make the time better per say, but there are ways to make the final moments more meaningful by eliminating as much stress as possible.
My advice is to start planning early.  Try to make some of the tough decisions before your loved one is too sick to be able to communicate clearly.  Having a plan and some directives will lessen the stress for everyone involved.  Emotions are already so high when dealing with an ailing family member, trying to make difficult decisions will only add to the strain and confusion.

Last week, Time Magazine’s website Healthland, featured an article called “Five Tips For Families Facing End-of-Life Care”.  Here is a snippet of the advice the article offered:

Keep communication open.  Have “the conversation” early.  Make sure family members designate who they want as their health care agent if they cannot make medical decisions on their own and need someone to speak on their behalf.  “The last place you want to have a conversation about who will take over as a health care agent is in an emergency,”  says Paul Malley, president of Aging With Dignity, a Florida-based advocacy group for terminally ill patients.  “This can be the adult child or the parent’s best friend perhaps.  There needs to be a conversation about everything from what medical treatments the loved one wants to how they feel about life support.  The fewer surprises the better.”

Involve your doctor.  “I think it’s really important that when these medical decisions are made, the family and the doctor are present,” says Carol Levine, director of the Families and Healthcare Project at United Hospital Fund.  “Not all doctors are comfortable talking about end-of-life kinds of issues.”  Involving the doctor in conversations about emergency care can alleviate tension when treatment options are discussed.

Get it in writing.  “It’s not enough to just have a conversation once and not talk about it again and it’s also not enough to fill out legal documents and never discuss wishes with family members,” says Malley.  “Both need to be done.”

Some of the documents you may want to consider for yourself and your family members are, powers of attorney, a do not resuscitate order, a will, and a living trust.

Recognize that you might not be the best person to take over.  “The person who becomes the health care proxy needs to be comfortable with that,” says Levine. “Being that person means making very hard decisions at a certain point.  It is better to know if you can handle it ahead of time so someone else can take on the role if need be.”  Experts recommend siblings also talk to one another early about how to divide responsibilities to avoid conflict later.

Talk about hospice care early. Hospice care provides medical treatment, emotional support and spiritual resources for people who are in the last stages of a terminal illness.  “I often see people who get into hospice care and wonder why they didn’t hear about it sooner,” says Davis.  In many cases, that may be because people see hospice as “giving up” ― though, actually, people who receive palliative care at the end of life may live longer than those who continue with aggressive, life-saving interventions.  Also, hospice can be a difficult topic for doctors to bring up to their patients.

Davis recommends talking about hospice care with your family early, in order have care for the longest time possible.  Hospice is a Medicare program and many state Medicaid plans and private health insurance plans pay for it as well.  “Talk about it early because although we all see ourselves dying in old age, it’s healthier to bring it up just in case.  That way, it can be about your own personal wishes as well as the wishes of your loved one,” says Davis.

The common theme with all of these tips is to plan ahead.  I have never met a family who regretted making the tough decisions prior to a crisis. By having the difficult discussions early, you will create an end of life experience for your loved ones that is what it should be…a time to reflect on memories and enjoy the time you have left together.

Consulting with an attorney can be beneficial especially when you need to determine how to pay for care without spending your entire savings, or if there are legal documents like a will or power of attorney that need to be prepared.  If you or your family is coming to a point where you need to have a conversation about end of life choices for a loved one, please don’t hesitate to call my office if you have questions or need guidance.

The Law Office of Dawn M. Weekly, PC is located in Sandwich, Illinois and focuses on elder law and Life Care Planning for clients.  Their office may be reached by calling 815-570-2334.

   Every day of every week, Weekly Law is there for you.


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