When it comes to “Advance Care Planning” or “Advance Directives for Healthcare” many people may not know what any of it means, or why it would matter to them. When you come to the hospital, you will always be asked if you have an Advance Directive. However, the large majority of adults say “no” because:
- They don’t know what an Advance Directive for Healthcare (ADHC) is, or …
- They believe it is only for someone older in age, or someone close to death
First, let’s get terminology out of the way and talk about what these words mean and then let’s talk about why this is so important for everyone. The goal is to help you understand what an Advance Directive for Healthcare is and why everyone (including every young person 18 years and older) should have one.
What is an Advance Directive for Healthcare (ADHC)?
An Advance Directive for Healthcare is a legal document that allows you to name your choices for:
- Part 1: A healthcare agent (and back-up agents)
This is the person who would speak for you if you are not able to speak for yourself
*formerly The Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare
- Part 2: Treatment preferences you would want to request or refuse
*formerly the Living Will
In 2007 our GA legislator combined these two formerly separate documents into one so a patient’s healthcare wishes can more easily be named and updated in one document.
What is Advance Care Planning?
Advance Care Planning is a conversation that begins before completing the Advance Directive for Healthcare. It is you talking with those you love – your spouse, your children, your parents – about what quality of life means to you. It’s talking about how you want your loved ones to advocate for your choices in the event you end up in the hospital not able to speak for yourself. They will be able to speak for you so your goals and values and preferences can guide clinical decisions. It’s empowering you to be sure your wishes can be known and followed in the health system.
Why Should I Start the Conversation Now?
This conversation with loved ones can be difficult – even more than completing the documents. It is natural that no one wants to talk about death. We, as a society, avoid the subject despite it being a natural part of life. It is a very sad but real reality that we will all die one day. So our goal is to normalize talking about it – not because we can affect the fact that we will die, but because we can affect how we will live until we die.
When we talk with families while they are healthy and moving through life we often hear, “that’s depressing” or “I don’t need to talk about that right now, I’m only 38 or my child is only 18 and doesn’t need an ADHC.” The problem is, in an unexpected emergency when the hospital comes to ask loved ones what a family member would want in a time of crisis, the most common thing we hear is, “I don’t know, we never talked about this.” We often hear “it always seemed too early to talk about this with my mom with dementia until she was suddenly noncommunicative and now it is too late” or for family members facing an unexpected accident, “I wish I knew what he would want, we never talked about these things”
This distress we see families struggle through is the very reason Advance Care Planning conversations are important in your healthcare journey.
We see how this conversation is a gift to your family. The peace that families feel when they know how to make decisions for their loved ones is of great value in comparison to the anxiety and stress of those who don’t know their loved ones wishes.
People often assume that their loved ones will know what they would want. Or they assume there will not be choices to be made and that the doctors will make all of these decisions. But this is simply not true. You alone are in charge of making your own choices and enabling others to advocate for you. By beginning this Advance Care Planning conversation, you are making choices for the future.
How Do I Start an ACP Conversation with my Loved Ones?
We are here to help. The Advance Care Planning department at NGHS has implemented the Respecting Choices® program out of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. This gold standard program highlights person-centered care and encouraging patients to have an active voice in their healthcare choices. It is funded by The Northeast Georgia Health System Foundation, an affiliate of NGHS to improve the health and well-being of the people of our community.
Reach out to the Advance Care Planning team if you have questions or need assistance. Share your goals, values, and preferences with those you love, or help your loved ones talk through this for themselves. When the time comes, your loved ones will have the peace of knowing how to advocate for you.
Want to learn more? Visit the link below to find the resources you need to start your own ACP conversation. Here you will also learn how to complete an ADHC and/or schedule a free appointment to let us help you talk through your ADHC choices.