April 16 is National Health Care Decisions Day. We use this opportunity each year to create awareness about the importance of planning ahead for a situation most of us don't want to think about
---- a time when health care decisions need to be made on our behalf, by someone else. We call this process "advance care planning."
I recently took a look at my own advance directive, and my husband's. We wrote them when we executed wills when our children were small. At the time, our top concern was deciding who would take of our kids if something happened to both of us. With our children nearly grown, I've realized that we need to do a lot more thinking (and talking) about our values and preferences if one of us has a serious illness or injury. We've each selected the other to make decisions if we can't speak for ourselves, but it's been a long time since we really talked about it. Since we're getting older, we have a lot more experience to draw upon. Between us, we've lost three parents or step-parents since we first wrote our advance directives. We know a lot more about what the end-of-life can look like, and also how hard it is to be the person making the decisions. As it happens, experts recommend revisiting advance directives every 10 years, so we are overdue.
I hope that the advance care planning process can also help raise awareness about hospice services and palliative care. Our member agencies often describe situations where clients enter hospice care only during the very last days of life. By not engaging with hospice providers earlier in their illnesses, these patients miss out on key services that could not only have improved the way they lived during their last months, but also supported their families.
There are many tools available to support people who want to move forward with advance care planning. The VNAs of Vermont
Start the Conversation
guide can help you talk with your loved ones. The Vermont Ethics Network's
Taking Steps Vermont
program guides you through the process of assigning a health care agent, completing an advance directive and talking with your doctor.
If being at home as long as possible or dying at home is important to you, Vermont's Advance Directive form includes a question specifically about that. Far from being prescriptive, however, the form includes open-ended questions where you can tell your care team and your loved ones anything you'd like them to know if you should become unable to speak for yourself about your care.
Please take the time this month to start the conversation with someone you love, name a health agent or create an advance directive if you haven't already. Start where you are and take the next step. If you already have these in place, consider reviewing them to be sure they still express your wishes now.