At some point in life, you or a loved one will likely face health challenges that require making informed and thoughtful decisions. Making these decisions can be incredibly difficult during a time of crisis. The best way to prepare for a moment like this is to think ahead so that you and your loved ones have a plan in place to guide the decision-making process. Life-altering health events can happen at any age, but for those who are nearing retirement, advanced care planning provides a framework through which family members and loved ones can help navigate an emergency or significant challenge to health with greater ease.
According to the CDC, 70% of Americans are without an advanced care plan, which can, all too often, lead to disagreements and confusion among family members when trying to make decisions for you. Advanced care plans are a great tool to bring your healthcare team and loved ones peace of mind if you cannot make decisions around your care.
What is Advanced Care Planning?
Advanced care planning is the process of educating yourself and preparing for future healthcare decisions, and communicating your wishes verbally and in writing in an advanced health care directive.
The purpose of an advanced care plan is to represent your preferences for care if you are unable to communicate them yourself, avoid confusion, and ensure your religious, spiritual, and personal needs are met with dignity and respect.
Have conversations with your primary care physician and other healthcare professionals, family members, and legal advisors ahead of time while preparing your advanced care plan.
There are a number of things to consider when preparing your plan, but it’s important to remember it will only be used in situations where you are unable to make your own decisions. Allow yourself to be honest with your wishes, regardless of pressure from others.
How Do I Get Started?
Planning for your health in the future can seem like a daunting task, especially with so many unknowns. There are many decisions that will need to be made when preparing an advanced care plan. Some questions you will want to ask yourself include:
- What are my key values?
- Do I wish to live as long as possible, or do I prioritize quality of life over length?
- What is most important to me from a care perspective?
- What health conditions do I currently have, and how will I want to be treated for those conditions in the future if complications arise?
- What health conditions run in my family history?
- What treatments are offered, how comfortable are you with common courses of treatment, and how do I want my family to proceed should they need to make decisions?
- Do I want the use of emergency treatments to keep me alive, such as CPR, ventilator use, tube feeding, or experimental drugs?
- Who do I want to be in charge of making decisions on my behalf?
- What are my spiritual or religious beliefs? Do I want a chaplain, priest, reverend etc. to be involved at any point?
The answers to these questions, and any others you may have, will be the very essence of your advanced care plan and need to be communicated in your advanced directive.
What is an advanced directive?
It is recommended that your preferences and wishes be put in a legal document called an advanced directive, which goes into force only when you are unable to advocate for yourself. This document can be changed and updated over time as your health and wants change too, giving you the flexibility to make changes as your preferences change.
An advanced directive gives you the power to consent to or deny care, name your preferred healthcare provider, and state a person you would like to make decisions on your behalf. This legal document is helpful to state your preferences around organ donation, resuscitation, limitations on the type of medications, and any other elements of your care.
An important consideration of the advanced directive is designating your healthcare proxy—the person you choose to make decisions on your behalf if you can’t advocate for yourself. This person will then oversee your care and ensure the details of your advanced directive are being followed. It is recommended that your healthcare proxy holds similar personal and religious values as you. More often than not, proxies are spouses, close family members, or friends.
It is important to note, if you do not have an advanced directive or a healthcare proxy, the state where you live will assign someone to make those decisions on your behalf; this person will most likely be a spouse, next of kin, or close relative.
How can Constellation Help?
There are many things to consider when you or a loved one is aging. Navigating it all and getting everything in order can be overwhelming. At Constellation, we are here to help you every step of the way. For 15 years, we have helped aging individuals and their families with advanced care planning as an extension of the compassionate, quality care we are dedicated to delivering to our patients. When it comes to helping families and individuals prepare for their future, we are committed to meeting your needs and preferences and putting minds and hearts at ease.
Constellation is a family-owned, family-centered organization serving the Northeast. We have remained true to our commitment to providing the best patient experience and the highest quality outcomes. We believe this is accomplished by ensuring that everyone we connect with feels valued, trusted, and heard. Learn more about our approach to home health care and contact us today.