Advance care planning: Start the conversation this holiday season

Adult daughter sharing information on advance care directives with her parents.

Many of us put off the things in life that we know we should do, including advance care planning. With the upcoming holidays, it can be the perfect time for you to bring up the subject with family members.

“It’s a good time to catch up and unfortunately talk about some tough discussions,” says Sara Zoelle, MD, vice president medical officer of the Sanford Health network.

She explains that advance care planning is the process of making decisions about your future health care in the event you won’t be able to make them because of an illness or trauma.

Having an advance care plan helps your family and friends speak for you when you can’t speak for yourself. It also lets you make your wishes known to health care providers so they can provide the level of care you desire.

Advance care planning also helps your loved ones feel less stressed by taking the decision-making burden off of them.

Gregory Johnson, MD, vice president and medical officer for the Good Samaritan Society, says each person should make it a goal to have an advance care plan in place. Talking about decisions now means they won’t have to be made during a crisis.

Having the conversation

Finding the right time and place to have a conversation about advance care planning is important. Make sure you’re in a quiet place with no distractions.

If you don’t know how to bring up the subject, it can be helpful to start by mentioning a family friend or acquaintance who recently went through a difficult health circumstance or died.

Dr. Johnson says this can start a conversation where an adult child can ask their parent what they would want to happen in a similar situation.

He says he had many experiences as a physician where he witnessed families second-guessing decisions that were made under stress.

Being proactive with an advance care plan allows you to tell your loved one how you want things handled. It helps them know where your heart is on important decisions and gives assurance that they’re doing what’s right for you.

If you’re the parent having a conversation with an adult child, you can reiterate that you don’t want to put them in a situation where they have to guess what type of care you want.

Starting the process

Maybe you’ve heard the advance care planning process is complicated. You can actually complete it in a few simple steps.

If you are a Sanford Health patient, log in to My Sanford Chart, click on Resources and then click on Advance Care Planning. It will bring up a form where you can type in your wishes and save them to your medical record. You’ll then be encouraged to make an appointment with your primary care provider to talk about your decisions.

If you aren’t a Sanford Health patient, click below for a free planning guide.

Free download: Advance care planning guide from Sanford Health

When you have your plans completed, bring them to your doctor so they can be scanned and added to your medical record.

If you or a loved one are moving into a nursing home, advance care planning should be offered as part of the admission process. Adult children should talk with the admissions or social services staff to let them know they’d like to be there when advance care planning is discussed.

Choosing an agent or proxy

When your advance care plan is made, you’ll need to choose a person to carry out your wishes. This is called a health care agent or proxy.

Dr. Zoelle says it’s important to choose a person you trust who will be there for you when you get sick. The ideal person will be an advocate for you and follow your directives.

When you have plans and an agent in place it’s also a good time to discuss funeral or celebration of life wishes.

“Prioritizing advance care planning is one of the most caring things you can do for your family to take away some of the burden and stress in a stressful situation,” says Dr. Zoelle.

Don’t put off advance care planning.

Start now

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