Simply put, Advance Care Planning outlines the care you wish to receive at the end of your life. It is a way to communicate your decisions, name someone who can speak on your behalf and ensure that your wishes and decisions are honoured. An Advance Care Plan (ACP) is only used when an illness like a coma or advanced dementia impairs your ability to make medical decisions.
While this type of discussion is never easy, the best time to make an ACP is actually when you are in good health. In fact, people who think about their preferences ahead of time are more likely to have a better quality of life and get the care they want. Planning in advance will also make your family and loved ones feel less anxious and more empowered to make medical choices for you.
How do I get Started?
If you are a caregiver, discussing end-of-life decisions with the person in your care can be very difficult. You may need to initiate and encourage the conversation. To make the topic less overwhelming, try bringing it up in a comfortable, relaxed setting. Begin with a situation they can relate to like another loved one’s end-of-life experience and remind them how this type of planning will reduce stress, anxiety and conflict between family members and loved ones. Don’t be discouraged if you are initially met with resistance. Advance Care Planning requires many conversations and is an ongoing process.
Five Steps of Advance Care Planning
By planning early, you can ensure that have a voice in your future medical decisions. To help you (or a loved one) work through the advance care process, here are five steps to follow:
- THINK about your beliefs, values and concerns. What brings you quality of life?
- LEARN about various end-of-life medical procedures and the care decisions you may be asked to make (e.g. life-prolonging measures).
- DECIDE who will be your Substitute Decision Maker. Who would you like to speak for you if you are unable to make decisions?
- TALK about your wishes with your Substitute Decision Maker, loved ones and health care providers.
- RECORD your wishes and ensure that your decision maker understands your choices and has a copy of your plan. Write your decisions down in an Advance Care Directive or record or video tape them.
Resources and Support
There are lots of Advance Care Planning resources and tools available for Canadians. Advance Care Planning kits guide you through a series of end-of-life situations and the possible options, which will help you make these difficult decisions. They also offer forms to document your wishes and name your Substitute Decision Maker. Once you create your Advance Care Plan, you can update and change as needed. It is recommended that you review your plan at least every three years.
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