Advance Care Planning Day is not until the middle of April, but based on a recent loss in my life and our experience in the hospital and palliative care, I truly recognized the importance of pre-planning and sharing information with your loved ones.
Advance care planning (ACP) is a process of reflection and communication. It is a time for you to reflect on your values and wishes, and to let people know what kind of health and personal care you would want in the future if you were unable to speak for yourself. It is about conversations – it is about wishes – it is about how we care for each other.
Making personal choices is basic to a person’s sense of identity and well-being. Every year, many Canadians become unable to make their own decisions about their personal care and medical treatments. It can happen slowly, over time, as with Alzheimer Disease; or it can happen suddenly, without warning, through a stroke or accident.
It is important to take steps now, while you are capable, to ensure your wishes, not someone else’s, guide the decisions made for your personal care and medical treatment if you ever become unable to make such decisions yourself. This is what advance care planning is about: Making clear how you wish to be cared for, and giving someone you trust the information and authority to act on those wishes for you, if the need arises.
To be capable of making personal care choices means that you can understand information that is relevant to making a decision about your health care, nutrition, shelter, clothing, hygiene or safety, and can grasp the likely results of making the decision or not making it. For health care, you must give informed consent: you must be capable, given information about your condition, the recommended treatment, alternatives to the proposed treatment and the likely outcomes of either accepting or refusing the treatment.
ACP is important because it gives you the opportunity to make choices about your future personal care. It can give you the peace of mind that someone you know and trust understands your wishes and will act on them on your behalf, should they ever need to do so. It can make it easier for everyone concerned: easier for you, because you’ll have the confidence that your wishes are known; easier for those close to you, because it can reduce their stress in making tough decisions on your behalf; and easier for your care providers, because they will be able to act in keeping with your wishes in an emergency.
The provincial government produced a wonderful booklet that can be downloaded or ordered at https://www.seniors.gov.on.ca/en/advancedcare. It explains step-by-step what you need to do to begin your process of advance care planning and provides answers to some frequently asked questions. Included are options available to help you take the steps now that are right for you.
I will continue this conversation next week with more information on substitute decision makers and selecting the appropriate person to fulfill that role. In the meantime, think about your personal situation and start the conversation with your loved ones.