2017-11-29 / Front Page

Family holidays can be a good time to have ‘The Talk’

By CAROL STAMATAKIS Executive Director, Senior Solutions

Carol Stamatakis- COURTESY PHOTOCarol Stamatakis- COURTESY PHOTO

Holidays often involve spending time with family and loved ones, and may be good opportunities to engage them in conversations about plans for the future. Advance care planning is the process of making decisions about the type of care you would like to receive at the end of your life or in the event you are not able to make decisions yourself, and who will make decisions on your behalf.

An Advance Directive is an important part of that process, and can help assure that your wishes and values are honored in the event you cannot speak for yourself. Talking with loved ones about your wishes is also important.

In Vermont, several different Advance Directive forms have been developed that range from very simple to more detailed options to express your wishes.

The short and simple “Appointment of a Health Care Agent” form can be used to name an agent (or co-agents) and express a few other basic preferences. The “agent” is the person you designate to make medical decisions for you. This should be someone who knows your values and beliefs and would be likely to follow your wishes. Alternative forms provide options for more detailed expressions of your wishes in different situations.

Whichever form you choose, you should inform your agent(s) that you are planning to name them and make sure they are comfortable acting in that role.

In addition to completing an Advance Directive, it is important to have conversations with your agent, family and those you are closest to so that they can understand your values and preferences and be supportive of your wishes. This can help assure that in the event difficult decisions must be made on your behalf, your family and loved ones can support the plan of care and avoid feeling guilty, arguing or questioning the decisions made.

Many people resist having “the talk” because they don’t know how to approach the subject. Sometimes, it can help to start the conversation by sharing a thought-provoking recent news story, book, movie, or personal experience involving an end of life situation. For some people, humor can ease the tension.

It is a good idea to encourage adults of all ages to think about, talk about and document their wishes. Thus, the conversation can be a mutual sharing of values and wishes, not focused solely on the wishes of an older person.

The holiday season can be a good time to have this conversation, when family members are present and people are relaxed and in good spirits. It is best to have the conversation and engage in advance care planning before facing a medical challenge. This can reduce the individual and family stress when a situation does arise.

Advance Directive forms can be downloaded from the Vermont Ethics Network web site, at www.vtethicsnetwork.org. Their web site also contains a wealth of information and links related to advance care planning and end of life care. Older adults may also call our Senior Helpline at 1 (800) 642-5119 to request a mailed form. 

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