Tips for a Successful Advance Care Planning Conversation

During our lifetimes, we plan for major transitions like going to college, getting married and retiring. But it is hard for most of us to think about the biggest transition of all: the end of our lives.

Like many people, you may have put off making decisions about healthcare treatment. But when you have a serious or life-limiting illness, it becomes even more important to communicate your wishes and preferences before a decline or hospitalization. Advance care planning is about having those conversations and ensuring your wishes are met.

Step 1: Get Ready!

We all have values, beliefs and goals that guide our thinking about life and death. Before you can educate your family and loved ones about your wishes, it is important to understand your own personal preferences. You can use the following questions to help you think through those preferences and values:

  • What is your understanding of where you are in your illness?
  • What have you and your doctor discussed about what to expect as your illness progresses?
  • How has your illness interfered with your daily activities?
  • What are your most important goals if your condition were to worsen?
  • What worries you the most about the future with your health?
  • If your health were to worsen, what are you willing to give up for the possibility of gaining more time?
  • What abilities are so crucial to you that you can’t imagine living without them?
  • What do you hope for most about the future of your health?

Step 2: Get Set!

It is important to have a conversation about your end-of-life wishes with your loved ones. This conversation can be difficult, but speaking with your loved ones about your wishes before a medical crisis can give them a clear understanding of your wishes for care. The following questions can serve as a guide to planning for this conversation:

  • Who would you want to include in the discussion?
  • Who would you want to be involved in your care?
  • Are there any relationships in your life that you feel need repaired?
  • How important is it to be physically independent and stay in your own home?
  • What impact would your illness have on your loved ones, including those who would be your caregivers?
  • Where would you prefer to spend the last stages of your life? (home, hospital, etc.)
  • Are there any important family milestones for which you would like to be present?

Step 3: Go!

Starting the conversation with your family and physician can be difficult. Below are some conversation starters to consider when discussing with your family.

Ice Breakers: How Do I Get Started?

  • Medical condition: Use your diagnosis to help start the conversation. “I want you to know my wishes so you can carry them out for me if my illness gets worse and I can’t speak for myself.”
  • Family experience: Use an example of a family’s member’s experience to help loved ones understand your wishes. “Remember when ____________was on life support after having a heart attack…”
  • News example: “I read this article on end-of-life care, and it got me thinking about my wishes.”
  • Doctor recommendation: “My doctor provided me this booklet about care planning and suggested I talk about my wishes with you.”

You may be surprised at how your family reacts to the discussion. Remember, you are doing what is best to protect you and them. If you feel reluctant about having this discussion, you may also include your healthcare provider or another neutral party to assist in starting the conversation.

Established Memorial Physician Services patients have the opportunity to use our Advance Care Planning services to help with this conversation. To learn more, or to set up your appointment, please call Gina Groff, LCSW, at 217-757-7253.

For other learning needs or to schedule a learning opportunity, please contact Julie Bobell, education liaison, at 217-415-8162 or visit Memorial Health System on Facebook for monthly events.