Talk About Health Care Wishes Before it is Too Late

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Discussing health care wishes before it is critical is a difficult, but necessary, conversation individuals should have with their family and physician. At Masonic Villages, staff advise residents and patients on their choices and the effects they can have on their health.

Maureen Dolk-Metcalfe, director of hospice services, Masonic Village at Elizabethtown

Talking about your choices regarding these medical decisions can be difficult, but there are benefits. It can take a huge burden off loved ones who could otherwise be left with making important decisions without you or your consent.

The National Institute on Aging states more than one out of four Americans face questions about medical treatment near the end of life but are not capable of making those decisions.

When a loved one comes face-to- face with a less than favorable medical prognosis, many families struggle with what to do next. Advance care planning is a difficult topic, but an important one that should be addressed.

Through advance care planning, individuals make decisions about the care and treatments they would want to receive if they become unable to express decisions for themselves.

When doctors believe a cure is no longer possible, decisions must be made about the use of emergency treatments to keep a person alive. These treatments can include CPR, ventilator utilization, artificial nutrition, hydration and comfort care.

“Talking about your choices regarding these medical decisions can be difficult, but there are benefits,” Maureen Dolk-Metcalfe, director of hospice services at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, said. “It can take a huge burden off loved ones who could otherwise be left with making important decisions without you or your consent.”

These preferences are often put into an advance directive, which is a legal document that goes into effect only if a person is incapacitated. An advance directive includes a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care. Other documents could include organ and tissue donation forms. When family are aware of a loved one’s wishes, they can ensure they are communicating to the physician in order to be an advocate in a time of crisis.

“Give a copy of your advance directive to your physician for your medical records and to your family members,” Dolk-Metcalfe said, “and review your decisions from time to time.”

Studies show patients who engage in advance care planning are less likely to pass away in the hospital and experience last resort and unnecessary surgeries. Earlier conversations about their goals and use of hospice services can better control symptoms and the psychological and spiritual well-being of a patient.

“Addressing death will never be easy, but it is necessary,” Dolk-Metcalfe said. “As time goes on, there will be more and more medical advances available that can prolong lives, but not everyone may want them.”

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Debra L. Davis
@MasonicVillages
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