By Jeremy Bolling
From the uncertainty of where to start to denial surrounding death, there are many reasons people wait too long to plan for aging. It can be an intimidating and emotional subject, but there are many benefits to considering your wishes in advance.
Prioritizing advance care planning before it’s needed can save you and your loved ones from stress in moments of crisis and provide peace of mind that your wishes will be met. Exploring your care options and making these wishes known gives you control of the treatment and support you’ll receive as you age. Planning future care can prevent unwanted hospital visits and procedures and help you avoid unnecessary pain or discomfort.
Many individuals don’t know where to start when it comes to planning for future care. Consider this guidance to make navigating this process a bit easier and provide insight into the decisions you’ll encounter.
Begin an open and honest conversation with your doctor and loved ones. Starting a dialogue about how you’d like to receive care as you age is the best way to make sure you and your loved ones are on the same page. As you navigate these discussions, consider who you will name as your health care proxy or power of attorney. This is the person who understands your values and preferences well enough to make medical decisions for you if you’re no longer able to speak for yourself.
Then make sure your preferences are written down and give copies to your family and physicians. Specific requirements for advance directives vary from state to state, but the purpose of the documents is to spell out medical treatments you would or would not want if you couldn't speak for yourself. Advance directives can include a living will, health care or medical power of attorney, physician orders for life-sustaining treatment, or a POLST form, and do not resuscitate, or DNR, orders.
Familiarize yourself with care options before they’re needed. As you age you may require increased care due to serious illness or injury, or simply the passage of time. This can be daunting for you and your loved ones to address in the moment so it is wise to consider options ahead of time. Whether you receive care at home, in a hospital or another type of care facility, there are varying levels of care available depending on your needs and goals. Your doctor will provide recommendations for the most appropriate care, but it’s a good idea to be informed about the options so you understand what they are and how they work.
- Home care is non-medical assistance with daily activities like bathing, meal preparation and transportation
- Home health is medical care provided where a patient resides and can help you maintain independence while receiving increased support from health care professionals. It is often used to help individuals transition back to their living environment following an inpatient stay; however, it can also be appropriate for ongoing management of certain chronic conditions.
- Home infusion is a safe and effective way to receive intravenous medications in a home setting and can be provided as part of home health, hospice or palliative care, or as a standalone service.
- SNF at home, which provides a higher level of skilled nursing care in the home rather than a facility, is a growing option that can result in a better patient experience at lower costs.
- Palliative care provides relief from the symptoms and stress of serious illness and can be provided at any stage of illness, including alongside curative treatment.
- Hospice is appropriate for individuals with a life expectancy of six months or less and focuses on helping patients live as well as they can, in their environment of choice, for the time they have left. The goal of hospice is to bring comfort and peace to the patient and their loved ones while tending to their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
As you age, it is important to talk with your doctor to ensure you have a clear understanding of your care options and any future needs you may have due to your medical conditions but older adults aren’t the only ones who should plan for the future. Unexpected circumstances can happen at any time and it’s best to prepare as early as possible. Take the first step and become a wise health care consumer by initiating important conversations with your doctor and loved ones so you can make the most informed decisions for your future care.
February is National Wise Health Care Consumer Month. Jeremy Bolling is a registered nurse and division president at Compassus, a national leader in post-acute care, providing a full suite of home-based care services including home health, infusion therapy, palliative care and hospice. Visit Hospice, Home Health, Palliative Care and Home Infusion | Compassus