By Elizabeth Guttenberg, LMSW, Senior Care Advisor
Advance directives—everyone’s favorite topic, right? Didn’t think so. These legal documents—which allow people to specify what they would want if they no longer have the ability to communicate their wishes to others—can often (understandably) evoke feelings of anxiety or fear. So, if you’ve been putting off discussing advance directives with your mom or dad, you’re not alone. As a Senior Care Advisor, I talk to people almost every day about advance directives and how important they are—but when it came to discussing them with my own mother, now in her late sixties, I grew faint-hearted. It was tough to picture her unable to express her wishes and make decisions for herself. However, as an only child who will likely become my mom’s caregiver one day, discussing her end-of-life wishes is one way for me to provide her with the same degree of care and consideration that she has shown me through the years. Have you been putting off this task? If so, then consider the following people you’ll be helping if you do it sooner rather than later:
Your loved ones. Your mom or dad may avoid talking about an advance directive because it’s a frightening topic. They may feel like they are giving up control, but in reality, an advance directive is designed to do the opposite. It ensures that people live out their lives in a way that reflects their values. As a hospital social worker, I encountered many patients who became both physically and mentally incapacitated. Sadly, if they had not created a living will or assigned a healthcare proxy, it was left to their doctors to decide what treatments or measures to apply to keep them alive. An advance directive can ensure this does not happen to your parents and provides them with some degree of control throughout their final days.
Yourself. Even though my mom and I are close, I don’t care to guess what she would or would not want in a crisis situation. Because I love and respect her, I want her to consider those scenarios now, while she is healthy. That way, I won’t have to make assumptions if my mother is faced with a life-threatening crisis and time is short. I once worked with a young woman, who was her husband’s healthcare proxy. Following a bad car accident she was faced with the agonizing decision whether to take her husband off of life support. Because his end of life wishes had not been discussed, she spent countless hours pacing around the hospital waiting room, agonizing over what to do. In such a devastating situation—an advance directive can take a huge burden off a loved one’s shoulders.
The rest of your family. As those of you with siblings may know, stressful events can bring out some interesting family dynamics. Even uncles and aunts, and nieces and nephews can surprise you in both good and bad ways. So now is the time to consider how your close family members might react in difficult situations. Will your brother be angry if your mom develops Alzheimer’s and assigns you to make her financial decisions? Will Dad’s deeply religious sister be upset if he decides to sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order? Sharing advance directives with family members before a crisis strikes might help to keep the peace. Hash out difficult issues with your loved ones ahead of time, record their decisions and preferences in writing, and distribute the documents to concerned family members before possibility becomes reality.
Convinced? Remember: You don’t have to take on this difficult task alone. Consider working with one of our Senior Care Advisors to develop a strategy for facilitating these conversations with your loved one. We can also set up family conference calls and help you find an Elder Law Attorney to review your documents and educate you on the various laws and regulations in different states.
Contact a Senior Care Advisor at Care.com. We are master’s-level social workers specializing in adult and senior care.
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