For most people, the end of life is something they don’t like to think about. It’s natural to want to avoid thoughts of mortality. However, the fact is that everyone will die someday. And while you can’t control when or how that happens, you can control how we approach it.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to educate yourself about end-of-life care and planning. By being informed about our options and making our wishes known, you can help ensure that your last days are spent in a way that is consistent with your values and preferences. You should be aware of a few things as you plan for your end-of-life care.
What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is a type of medical care that focuses on alleviating pain and enhancing the quality of life for patients suffering from serious illnesses. It is appropriate at any stage of illness, from diagnosis through end of life. Palliative care teams work with patients and families to develop a care plan that meets the specific needs and goals of each individual.
Palliative care relieves symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, sleep disturbances, and depression. Palliative care also addresses emotional, social, practical, and spiritual concerns. The goal of palliative care is to help people live as well as possible for as long as possible.
This type of care is provided by a team of doctors, social workers, nurses, chaplains, and other specialists who work together with the patient’s other doctors to provide coordinated care. Palliative care is covered by Medicare and most private insurance plans.
What are Hospice Services?
Hospice is a type of palliative care for terminally ill people with a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice focuses on comfort rather than cure. The goal of hospice is to help people live their remaining time as fully and comfortably as possible. Hospice services are typically provided in the home but can also be provided in nursing homes, hospitals, or freestanding hospice facilities. Hiring experienced hospice nurses to care for patients and their families is a key part of providing quality hospice care.
Hospice services are paid for by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans. Hospice services are also available to people who cannot pay for them through government programs or nonprofit organizations. It’s important to note that while hospice services focus on comfort rather than cure, patients can still receive curative treatment if they choose; they simply have to discontinue hospice services.
Making End-of-Life Plans: Advance Directives
An advance directive is a legal document that allows you to express your preferences for medical treatment if you cannot communicate your wishes yourself. Advance directives typically include a living will and a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (also known as a healthcare proxy).
In a living will, you can state your preferences for medical treatment in specific circumstances, such as whether or not you want artificial nutrition or hydration (tube feeding), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), mechanical ventilation, or pain medication. It’s important to note that living will only come into effect if you are unable to communicate your wishes yourself; they do not apply if you can make decisions about your own care.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare allows you to appoint someone else—a family member, friend, or trusted advisor—to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so yourself due to incapacity or incompetence. Once again, it’s important to note that this only applies if you are unable to make decisions about your own care; it does not apply if you are able to communicate your own wishes.
It’s also worth noting that advance directives only apply to medical decisions; they cannot be used to express preferences about end-of-life issues such as funeral arrangements or disposal of remains. For those sorts of Preferences, you’ll need to write out your wishes in an informal document called an ethical will or personal directive. You should share copies of these documents with your family members, close friends, doctor, lawyer, financial advisor, and anyone else who might need them.
No one likes thinking about death—but it’s something we all have to face eventually. The good news is that there are things we can do to make the process easier both for ourselves and our loved ones. By educating ourselves about our options and making our wishes known, we can help ensure that our last days are spent in a way that reflects our values and preferences.