Many families find conversations about end of life care difficult to broach with a parent or aging loved one, but surely they have come up.
Perhaps you were driving away from a nursing home visit with your mother when she told you she “never wants to live in a place like that.”
Or, maybe you were sharing coffee after a family funeral when your father told you that he “never wants to be hooked up to ventilators like Uncle Mark was.”
Statements like these open a window into their desires as they relate to end of life care, but they don’t provide you with the full picture you need to adequately plan ahead.
The 40-70 Rule® is a good rule of thumb: have an intentional conversation surrounding these concerns by the time you are 40 and your parent is 70. But no matter your age, it can bring immeasurable peace of mind to communicate openly with your family about end-of-life fears and wishes so you can plan ahead to ensure those wishes are honored.
Here are a few of some of the most common fears and ways to overcome them.
Fear #1: “I hate the thought of having feeding tubes and ventilators keeping me alive.”
What you can do about it: Consider establishing a living will. Living wills detail an individual’s treatment preferences in the event he or she is unable to make those decisions for him- or herself. The requirements for living wills vary from state to state, so you should also consider having a lawyer assist with this. Many lawyers will prepare a living will as part of an estate planning package.
Fear #2: “I’m afraid I will end up in a nursing home, and I don’t want to die in a hospital or institution.”
What you can do about it: There are many options for end of life care outside of nursing homes and hospitals. Make sure that you have a conversation with your parent about his or her wishes and look into home care options together so that you are prepared when the time comes.
Fear #3 “What if I get dementia and can no longer make my own decisions?”
What you can do about it: It’s wise to have your parents designate a trusted person with power of attorney (POA) who will act on their behalf in the event that they are no longer able to advocate for themselves. Designating a person with POA will give them peace of mind that their care wishes will be met regardless of their mental acuity.
Fear #4: “I don’t want to lose my independence.”
What you can do about it: Look into the home care options in your area so that your parent can have the help they need to continue living independently at home without feeling like they have to rely on you to help meet their daily needs.
The best way to address the end-of-life fears your parent may be struggling with is to communicate clearly with them about their wishes in advance. If the topic doesn’t come up naturally, set up a specific time to talk.
Try to remain open and put yourself in your loved ones’ shoes to better understand their wishes and the reasoning behind them. Be sure to record your discussion by taking notes so you have something to refer back to when making plans and decisions in the future.
For many, it’s normal to feel anxiety surrounding this topic, but know that having open communication with your loved ones will likely give your family a sense of peace that will far outweigh any anxiety you feel broaching the subject.
For additional guidance when it comes to discussing end-of-life wishes with your loved ones and developing a plan, download the 40-70 Rule: An Action Plan for Successful Aging.