“I don’t want to talk about it,” is something we hear often when the topic is death. Many of us are “trained” at a young age to be terrified of death, making us averse to the subject. Therefore, as it’s not discussed, we generally don’t plan for it – despite its inevitability.
Unfortunately, that also means hospice care discussions and advance directive conversations often delay until a patient is at crisis level. Advance directives include legal documentation such as a living will, power of attorney and do not resuscitate (DNR) orders.
Have the conversation before the crisis
Death Cafés and The Conversation Project encourage people of all ages to talk about their end-of-life wishes. They’ve been effective in encouraging people to talk about what they would like to happen before they get to crisis mode.
Friends, loved ones and caregivers are sometimes guilty of shutting down any talk of dying from an illness. We offer platitudes such as, “You’re going to get stronger.” Once we slam that door shut, your loved one may not open it again. Instead, if and when the subject of death and dying arises, take a pause and let your loved one explore it – even if it’s uncomfortable to do so.
It’s fair to state that we are not – and our families are not – in the best mindset to make big decisions when a health crisis occurs.
Fortunately, that mindset is slowly changing with community education events. The death positive movement, which involves casual and convention-style events, is growing across the globe. Local health organizations host regular events, such as the Dying to Talk Café from the Concord, NH Visiting Nurses Association.
If you have an aging parent or family member or know someone with a serious, potentially terminal diagnosis, ask yourself what would help open the door to a talk about hospice:
- A conversation with a primary care physician?
- A casual meeting with a hospice caregiver?
- A family meal?
Hospice professionals provide education around goals of care at events such as Death Cafés, getting people thinking about their end-of-life wishes. You have the opportunity to make some big decisions while you’re still well, and it is often easier on your family when these things are in place.
Hospice professionals also do a lot of hospice benefit outreach education with healthcare professionals. Patients may open up to their doctor before a family member, asking, “Do I want to continue this treatment? I’m not sure I want to keep going to the hospital all the time.” When a patient opens that door, it’s beneficial to know all options, including hospice care.
A growing percentage of physicians realize the importance of getting patients into hospice earlier in order to provide a better quality of life. Symptoms are managed allowing patients to do more things they want to do, as opposed to going back and forth for hospital stays.