We all envision our parents as the strong people who raised us. Mom fixed every booboo with a bandaid and a kiss. Dad helped keep our cars running.
However, we all must face the thought of our parents growing older. As their offspring, our duty is to help them be as healthy and happy as possible and, when the time comes, follow their wishes for end-of-life care.
Perhaps that’s why we don’t like to talk to our parents about end-of-life decisions. Not only do we refuse to consider their mortality, we don’t want them to contemplate it either.
Sadly, we do have to contemplate it to ensure the end of their life is as comfortable as possible.
Have the Conversation Early
Many families delay a discussion on end-of-life issues until an emergency occurs. Only 20% of Americans have an advance directive for end-of-life medical care, but 60% want their wishes followed.
Waiting can prevent a patient’s wishes from being followed.
“The last place you want to have a conversation about who will take over as a health care agent is in an emergency,” says Paul Malley, president of Aging With Dignity, a Florida-based advocacy group for terminally ill patients.
Visit almost any website about end-of-life care, and you’ll discover situations where a person’s wishes were not followed because the hospital or doctor did not have the proper documents.
2 Documents You Should Have Your Parent Sign Now
The 2 most important documents to ensure your parent’s wishes are followed during their life are:
#1 Healthcare Power of Attorney/Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care/Healthcare Proxy. Unlike a living will, which puts the power of life or death in the hands of the physician, a Healthcare Power of Attorney (HPOA) designates a person to make the decision about continued care. You may not want to be that person, but make sure that person knows about your parent’s wishes.
In one case, an older man with advanced Alzheimer’s is confined to a wheelchair and doesn’t know his own family. He had a living will with a DNR (do not resuscitate) order. When he developed aspiration pneumonia, his only son expected that the doctor would not take extraordinary measures because of the living will. However, the doctor took extraordinary measures to keep the man alive, despite the man’s wishes and the wishes of his son. An HPOA would have prevented the man’s suffering.
#2 HIPAA Authorization. Even if you have a durable power of attorney or HPOA, the hospital and doctors can’t divulge medical information unless you have a legal document specifically giving them permission.
Your parent has likely already filled out numerous HIPAA forms but may not have specified you as an authorized person. You can download and fill out this form here to present to doctors and hospitals. It does not need to be notarized or witnessed.
How to Begin the Conversation About End-of-Life Care
If your parent has not already brought up the subject, ask your parent what they’d like you to do if they should become ill, experts advise.
If you are having difficulty broaching the subject, comment on a magazine article or blog about end-of-life care. Try telling them your feelings about your end-of-life care and asking them about theirs.
- Don’t bring your own attitudes into the conversation. This is your parent’s time to discuss their opinions.
- Have the discussion early so you’re not dealing with an emergency situation.
- Don’t speak off the cuff. Plan your conversation. Have answers to objections prepared.
- Show empathy. Look your parent in the eye. Don’t be afraid to touch them. Let them feel your love.
- Consider the spiritual aspect of the conversation. Even if you aren’t religious, religion may be a source of great comfort to your parent. Remember to consider it when speaking to your parent.