Aging advocate Carol Marak interviewed a group of eldercare experts (including me) regarding their experiences discussing death and dying with elders and their families. Her Huffington Post piece on the topic, excerpted below, suggests that yes, families — and many healthcare providers — are ready to have these important and necessary conversations.
Most people avoid the topics of aging and dying like the plague, don’t you agree? Erica Hollack, the author of “Live Well, Die Well,” doesn’t think so and argues the opposite. She attended a conference on end-of-life concerns and discovered that the 800 chairs set up for the workshop were not enough. The community came out in droves to hear the meaningful conversation in Spokane. So, as a whole, our culture may not be averse to talking about the end of life.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) believes the time is right for a national dialogue to normalize the emotions on death and dying. They think that the social trends point toward a growing willingness to share stories about the end-of-life care and that it will help drive more family discussions. In the IOM consensus report, Dying in America, experts found that accessibility of medical and social services could improve a patient’s life at the end. But if people don’t discuss which medical care or social services they want or not, how will their wishes be known and carried out?
Since 70 percent of ill adults become unable to express their care preferences, the separation between what they want, and what they receive is significant and usually is the result of misinformation. Having end of life discussions can put a stop to the discrepancy. IOM believes we can do this through public education and engagement.
My family experienced several deaths over the years. However, one, in particular, sticks out. It was my brother-in-law’s. The medical and hospital staff followed his values, goals, and educated preferences. It made the process for everyone more relaxed and comfortable. The best of all, it created the sacred space for good-byes, forgiveness, and regrets. To this day, the family remains in awe of that unprecedented event.
There is power in stories. And by sharing them, it’s my hope to encourage meaningful dialogue between individuals and their families about beliefs, care, and choices. By sharing personal events and accounts, fear will dissipate. Death is a process to appreciate, and family members should spend the time reminiscing not deliberating over medical treatments.
The Institute of Medicine also recommends that service providers stimulate advance care planning between clients and medical teams so that the individuals can make informed choices based on one’s needs and to make them known. To unlock the narratives of death and dying so that others become more comfortable with the topic, I asked the Seniorcare.com Aging Council,
“Share one example of a family or person/client who experienced a higher quality of care as a result of having an open talk with loved ones?”