Young people urged to make an end-of-life care plan

Categories: Care.

Twenty-two-year-old Belinda Hannan, for example, has spoken with her boyfriend and mother about advance care planning, communicating her values and wishes for end-of-life care.

Hannan is way ahead of the curve. Eighty-six per cent of Canadians have never heard of advance care planning and more than 80 per cent don’t have a written plan that specifies both preferences for end-of-life care and a substitute decision-maker who would act on their behalf.

Some of us think it’s only for old people. I was prompted to help my elderly motherly make a plan a few years ago, but I must confess I’ve still not written my own.

No more stalling. Today is National Advance Care Planning Day, a day designated by the Speak Up campaign to talk with loved ones about our future health and personal care preferences in the event that we can’t speak for ourselves.

Hannan says she never thought about her own death, acknowledging the invincibility many young people feel. But when she lost a friend to cancer last fall she realized that death can happen at any age. “It was shocking, really. I didn’t expect it to happen.”

Her personal experience includes the death of her father in a workplace accident when she was a child. This stressed for her that accidents do happen and you can’t really plan for the end of life in the way we may want.

These experiences resonated when she was introduced to advance care planning during a social work placement at Hospice Orillia as part her studies at Lakehead University’s Orillia campus.

Hannan recognized that having a plan is as important for people her age as it is for older adults, but she and a fellow student found that the resource materials they were given as part of their training seemed geared to an older demographic.

They adjusted a slide show provided by the North Simcoe Muskoka Palliative Care Network for a presentation they made to students at Lakehead by adding more photos of young people, and facts about accidents and suicides as the leading causes of death among younger adults.

They talked about who could be the substitute decision-maker for a young adult, going through the hierarchy of choices: parents, spouse, common-law partner.

“For most of us now, we’re young, we’re not married but we may be living with a girlfriend or boyfriend, and then who has that say?” If young people don’t write out a plan, she says, in a crisis there could be conflict between parents and a common-law partner.

But first you have to be able to talk about this with loved ones.

“From then (the death of her friend) to now, after being at Hospice Orillia, I didn’t realize how much of a death-denying society we are, and how much I myself denied death,” Hanna says.

She remembers coming home and talking about what she was learning at Hospice Orillia and how she was feeling about it. “There were these blank looks of like, this isn’t appropriate to talk about at dinner time, like I was the Grim Reaper or something, coming in and spewing all these ideas about death and dying.”

It’s been hard to talk about her advance care plan with her mother who is not “very comfortable with the idea.” But she has talked a lot about it with her boyfriend; she’s confident he would be a good substitute decision-maker.

I can appreciate how her mother feels. It’s hard as a parent to consider the possibility of something bad happening to my son. As Hannan says, “Part of it is just accepting that we are going to die.”

If this sounds grim, it shouldn’t. Most of us won’t have to activate our plans until we are much older, if ever, but having one can give us comfort and our loved ones assurance that our end-of-life wishes will be honoured.

Hannan and I have yet to write our own advance care plans. We’ve challenged each other to get it done. With the resources and links to specific provincial information available on the Speak Up website, there’s no excuse to keep stalling.

Every adult should have an advance care plan. Start talking with your loved ones today.


To view the original article via Troy Media, please click here.

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