The holidays are a great time to discuss end-of-life issues

Encouraging our patients to start thinking about and planning for their end-of-life care is always a challenge. During any given office visit, numerous competing issues vie for time. And when clinicians do surface the topic of Advance Directives, our patients often wonder why we are bringing up that issue. And why now. Do we know something about the person’s health that we’re not saying?

While the obstacles are plentiful, if you have a few extra minutes after the other, more immediate, issues have been addressed, consider handing your patient an Advance Directive form – it is very helpful to have plenty of these printed up and available – and let them know all adults really should fill one out. If you have filled one out yourself, you can let your patient know as a way to help reassure them you’re not bringing up the subject because you have some secret knowledge about their health that you’re not saying aloud.

And since the holidays are often a time when families spend more time together, this time of year can provide ideal opportunities for people to discuss their own personal wishes with their family and loved ones. With family coming together, it also may be easier to line up whom they wish to designate to make decisions for them in case they cannot speak for themselves. Certainly, the holidays are a time to celebrate and share in the joy of family. Talking about Advance Directives does not need to put a damper on the warmth and camaraderie. It can actually bring families closer together through the sharing of some very personal reflections and decisions.

You can download copies of an easy-to-understand Advance Directive in many different languages at: http://www.iha4health.org/(X(1)S(a5ofnszsp5m0anyvjicwxz55))/default.aspx?MenuItemID=266&&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1.

Richard Fleming, MD

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