Improve Your Health

Starting a Conversation About Advance Directives

About The Author

Wayne L. Winistorfer

Regional Director of Rehabilitation Services

Ascension Wisconsin

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As Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” It’s no coincidence the day after Tax Day – April 16 – is National Healthcare Decisions Day, a time to help people learn more about the importance of advance care planning.

Most people are uncomfortable thinking about or discussing illness and death. But it’s better to address these things well in advance of them happening. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 88 – as soon as you’re a legal adult, you need to think about setting up advance directives.

Having conversations about end-of-life care is tough but necessary. Before you start, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where are you in life? – As you approach life’s milestones, it’s also a good time to think about advance care planning. For example, if you’re getting married or divorced, you may need to change who you pick for your power of attorney for healthcare agent.
  • Have you been diagnosed with a progressive or terminal illness? If so, you’ll need to carefully consider the type of healthcare you want if you’re unable to make decisions for yourself. Your primary care provider can help you gain a better understanding of your disease and what medical challenges you may face in the upcoming months or years.
  • Who do you want to make decisions for you? – It’s important to pick someone you know and trust – a person who will make decisions as you would. The person you select is known as your healthcare agent. Although this person is often a spouse or adult child, it might also be a sibling, friend, neighbor or coworker. The only way to know if someone is the right person for the job is to have a conversation. Talk about what you want and ask questions to determine if he or she can make decisions as you would yourself.
  • How do you envision your healthcare? – There are a lot of decisions to be made when creating advance directives. You’ll need to think about how you want to live at the end of your life, what you value most, what types of care you do and don’t want to receive and your role in the decision-making process. There are even more specific things to consider, such as if you want artificial nutrition or if you want doctors to try to resuscitate you should the need arise. It may come as a surprise that you can even list details of your wishes by specifying, for instance, the music you would want played in your room or the type of blanket you want on your bed.

Feeling overwhelmed? Fortunately, there are several resources that can guide you through the advance care planning process. Many local health systems and hospitals – including Ascension Wisconsin – have people who can direct you to the right forms and even help you fill them out. Some hospitals also offer community classes. For example, Ascension St. Elizabeth Hospital offers a community class every second Tuesday of the month at 1pm and 6pm and Mercy Hospital offers one every second Wednesday of the month at 1 and 6pm. During the classes, participants learn more about advance care planning, why it’s needed and how to fill out the right forms.

To learn more, call Ascension NurseDirect at 800-362-9900.

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