As our loved ones grow older, we worry more and more about their declining health. It can be particularly hard to talk about end of life topics, such as healthcare needs, hospice care, and palliative care. However, it’s important to have these difficult conversations to ensure that your loved one is comfortable and well taken care of throughout their last stage of life. By having these conversations early, you can learn your loved one’s final wishes and how he or she feels about certain matters, such as life support. No matter how difficult, having these conversations as early as possible can lead to fewer doubts and regrets later on.
Avoidable Family Conflict
Family conflict is often attributed to a lack of knowledge. There may have been times when a loved one has passed and you asked yourself, “What would she have wanted?” Conflict can also occur between family members when either side disagrees about healthcare options or medical intervention at the end of life. Many of these types of conflicts can be cleared up by preemptively talking to your loved one about his or her wishes.
One survey found that 90 percent of people say that talking about end of life care with their loved ones is important. However, only 27 percent reported to actually doing it. Talking about what your loved one may or may not want during their last days or months of life can make a drastic difference during future crises. It also removes the burden from caregivers and loved ones in situations when they are forced to make end of life care decisions.
Poor Healthcare Choices
Not everyone wants the same type or level of healthcare when they approach their end. While some people prefer to have medical intervention to extend their life, others would prefer to go without and achieve a natural end of life experience. When you avoid difficult conversations, you may ultimately end up making the wrong healthcare choices on behalf of your loved one. Take the time to understand what’s important to them in regards to medical care and life-saving efforts like CPR, artificial breathing/feeding, and full-life support.
Along with medical support comes the decision whether or not to accept help from services such as hospice or palliative care. These types of services can be invaluable as they address the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of the patient. However, the choice should ultimately be left to your loved one. Discuss the idea of hospice with your loved one to determine whether or not they would be comfortable receiving this type of care.
Pain management is also an important topic to discuss before things get too bad. In the midst of pain, it can be hard to communicate what you want or need. To ensure that your loved one receives adequate pain and symptom management, ask how they would like you to handle their medications or treatments. You may also want to discuss this topic with your loved one’s physician to ensure that you’re aware of all health conditions and current medications.
While having these difficult conversations, you and your loved one may disagree about certain topics. That’s okay. You may need to have several talks to ensure that both parties are on the same page regarding future decisions to be made with regards to aging and healthcare options. If your loved one is of sound mind, it’s best to honor their wishes when it comes to their personal healthcare and end of life options. Having these discussions early on will allow you time to understand their decisions.
Many older adults have Advanced Directives to ensure that their wishes are carried out in the event that they are not able to express their wishes verbally. An Advanced Directive may include paramount information, such as what type of life-saving treatment you would want or who you would like to make major decisions for you. While most directives are clearly written, some families may misinterpret their loved one’s wishes.
To avoid misinterpreting written documents such as Advanced Directives, it’s important to talk to your loved one about their final wishes verbally and ideally more than once. Over time, their wishes may change so you will want to remain updated about any alterations in their wishes. It may be easiest to read through the Advanced Directive with your loved one and have them confirm that is what they still want.
While most family members are not concerned about money in the midst of a tragedy, the blow of a major medical bill down the road can be extremely burdensome. Communicating with your loved one about their healthcare needs and preferences early on can save you money and stress in the future. Oftentimes families will continue medical treatments long past the point of being helpful. Knowing that is not what your loved one wants can help curb avoidable financial strain.
These difficult conversations also allow you to better stay in control of tough situations. When you know what your loved one wants in their final years and after death, you can take the steps needed to ensure everything’s in order before that time arrives. You’ll also be able to better communicate with other family members, healthcare providers, and insurance companies about the state of your loved one’s affairs.
Nine Questions to Ask Your Loved One
Not sure where to start? Ask the following questions:
- Do you have a will or living trust?
- What are your end of life wishes?
- Do you have long-term health insurance (and where can I find these documents)?
- If you need daily assistance, would you prefer homecare or a nursing facility?
- Are there are medications/treatments you want to receive or refuse?
- Do you have any concerns or fears about specific medical treatments?
- Would you want life support or hospice care?
- What are your views concerning artificial hydration and nutrition?
- Do you have or would you like a DNR?
While talking to your loved one about aging and their end of life needs and wishes can be difficult, it can bring both of you comfort knowing that everything is taken care of. It can also help strengthen your relationship as you spend more time together. One conversation can make all the difference.