Advance care planning can be a gift to your loved ones

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If a serious accident or illness should happen to you, what happens next? This is a question that most of us do not like to think about; however, delaying advance care planning discussions until a medical crisis occurs can result in decisions being made about your healthcare and/or end-of-life care that you never intended.

National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16 is intended to promote advance care planning by helping people understand the importance of planning and encouraging them to plan before a medical crisis occurs. Advance Care Planning includes filling out a legal document, otherwise known as a living will; as importantly, it is also about choosing an agent who will make decisions if one can no longer speak for oneself, and having conversations with that agent about healthcare values and goals to make wishes known.

Unfortunately, when a medical crisis occurs, many families are left to make difficult decisions about their loved one’s care at the end of life because they are unresponsive or cannot speak for themselves. This doesn’t just happen to us when we are elderly, this could occur at any juncture in our lives or at any age. Having those important discussions with family and documenting wishes using advance directives is an ideal way to lift the burden from those around us if we are unable to speak for ourselves. Many times, while working as a nurse in various clinical and hospital settings, I have seen families struggle to make decisions without knowing what their loved one truly intended for themselves. Some families are left wondering if they did the right thing.

All members of the community who are over the age of 18 should consider completing an advance directive tool to name a health care proxy and make their wishes about end-of-life care known. NHDD is a perfect opportunity to have these important conversations. Using an advance directive can be a gift to those around you. Family members and friends will not have to guess what you want if you cannot speak for yourself during a medical crisis. They won’t have to make those hard choices, because they will understand your wishes in advance.

I would like to let members of the community know that there are resources out there for them such as the Five Wishes, an advance directive tool offered by Haven Hospice to let their wishes be known.

During the month of April, Haven joins with other community organizations to provide education and resources on healthcare decision-making and how to start these vital conversations in the counties we serve. In Orange Park, Haven will host an Advance Directive presentation on April 19 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Haven Hospice Custead Care Center on Blanding Boulevard near Orange Park that is free and open to the public.

Gayle Mattson is president of Haven Hospice.

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