January 2011 Newsletter – Happy New Year!

Have you set goals for the year? I ask you to include one more goal…to consider and document your end-of-life decisions if you have not already done so. Whether you are 25-years-old, or 85-years-old, it’s important to document what care you would want if you became unable to communicate due to an illness or a serious accident.

In 1991 local physicians in La Crosse, Wisconsin began a campaign to increase awareness about end-of-life wishes. It soon became routine for patients as they were admitted to the hospital, a nursing home or assisted living facility to fill out a short form answering four critical questions. In five years, eighty-five percent of residents who died had completed advance directives—an increase from fifteen-percent in 1991. Not only was treatment easier because decisions were already specified, but La Crosse’s costs relative to end-of-life care was nearly half of the national average.

More importantly, doctors and staff found that in requesting this information more families were having more discussions about what mattered most. Considering decisions without the presence of crisis and fear allows more in-depth deliberation to hypothetical scenarios. The ability to ask questions, and to speak openly about death, dying, and end-life-care to physicians and family members is so very central to achieving peace of mind for the patient, and for their loved ones.

When answering any of the questions to be considered, preface each with “At this moment in my life…”

At this moment in my life would I want aggressive treatment, such as being kept alive by a mechanical ventilator?

At this moment in my life would I want to be resuscitated if my heart were to stop?

Remember, too, that because a decision was made and documented it does not mean you may not later change your mind and have that change documented as well.

Aging with Dignity provides Five Wishes (a detailed document which asks questions to help you prioritize your end-of-life wishes) which can be downloaded from the computer. Put It in Writing.org is another on-line resource, and you may always contact an attorney to document your directives. Start your year off right by not putting off some of the most important decisions of your life.

Wishing you all a year filled with good health, happiness and much peace of mind.