Don’t Delay Advance Care Planning

Mature caucasian man sitting on a bench outdoors with a red umbrella

We tend to plan for important parts of life: education, career, marriage, homeownership, and retirement. We even plan for the not-so-important, like bringing an umbrella along when it might rain. But what most of us forget to do—or avoid doing—is plan for any decisions that may be needed as we near the end of our life.

That’s where advance care planning comes in. Advance care planning is a process where you think, decide, discuss, and prepare for future medical decisions in case you are unable to direct your care for whatever reason.

In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16, here are three things you can do to start—or continue—your advance care planning.

  1. Look at your life and focus on the joy. Advance care planning is about what you want from So, pay attention to those activities which bring meaning to your life. They don’t even need to be big events; in fact, understanding the small, day-to-day moments often provides a better picture of what you value. It’s these values which can then translate to medical choices. For example, if cooking for family makes your day, then you can tell others that being able to cook and interact with loved ones is essential. When having to make medical decisions for you, your family can ask if a procedure or treatment will allow you to engage again with family over food.
  2. Ask your doctor questions about possible outcomes. Every person is unique, not only in their beliefs but in their current health. If you have questions about how a specific treatment or procedure would work for you, talk to your doctor. When considering medical choices, it can be helpful to know what the outcomes might be. For example, someday you might need cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or need to be put on a ventilator. Your medical provider can look at your health history and take into consideration things like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, or diabetes and provide a better understanding on how treatments such as CPR or being on a ventilator would impact your body and well-being.
  3. Talk to others about your decisions and write them down. It’s no good making your future healthcare decisions if no one else knows about them. Talk to anyone who would be at the bedside if you are ill—your family, your primary care doctor, or your friends or neighbors. The more people who know your values and preferences, the more voices can advocate on your behalf. Don’t forget to complete a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPOAH) form; in this legal document, you name the person who will make your medical decisions if you cannot. Your DPOAH should be someone you trust who will listen to you about your decisions and then follow them even if they don’t personally agree. You can complete a living will which is another legal form that tells which treatments (like artificial nutrition) you want or don’t want; again, this form only takes effect if you cannot communicate your own decisions.

LifeCare Advocates is a community partner of Honoring Choices Massachusetts, a great resource for learning about the documents you should use in Massachusetts.

The great thing about planning is that you can change your mind. Revisit your choices and documents at least every 10 years or when a significant change occurs, like a diagnosis. Think of advance care planning as an umbrella for healthcare; you may not need it, but it’s good protection—just in case.