April is Advance Care Planning Awareness Month: Learn more about this important topic

By Betsy Snyder • JFCS Senior Services Care Coordinator


Happy Advance Care Planning Awareness Month! Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe it’s important to write down their end-of-life wishes, only 36% of people have actually done so (Kaiser Permanente, 2019). Many people avoid discussing this topic because they don’t know how to bring it up or because they worry it may upset their loved ones. Below, I answer some frequently asked questions about the Advance Care Planning process.


What does “Advance Care Planning” actually mean?


Advance Care Planning is an ongoing process in which someone thinks about their preferences for care if they were to become ill or injured and were unable to express their wishes. Typically, it involves an interactive conversation between this person and at least one or two others that they’ve selected to act as their representative(s). It results in the completion of a written document called a Healthcare Directive that can be shared with healthcare providers and loved ones. In some cases, the person may choose to involve a certified Advance Care Planning facilitator who’s had specialized training and can help to guide the discussion and assist in filling out the Healthcare Directive so that it accurately reflects the person’s wishes.


What’s a healthcare agent? Can I choose more than one?


A healthcare agent is a person who you choose to help share your wishes with your doctors and nurses if you’re unable to do so yourself. You should pick someone that you feel comfortable discussing your preferences with. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who shares all of your preferences, but should be a loved one who you trust to respect your wishes.


You can choose more than one person to be your representative. This is an especially good idea if the first person you select lives out of town or can be difficult to reach. That way, you have a backup in the event that they are unavailable when you become ill or injured. You can also list additional family members or friends that you’d like your agent(s) to consult with when making decisions. However, it’s generally best to avoid naming more than a few people as it might be difficult to get a large group of people to come to a consensus in a time-sensitive situation.


What kind of questions will I have to answer when completing a healthcare directive?


Most healthcare directives go through different scenarios and ask what types of treatment options you’d choose if you were in that situation. For example, questions about whether you’d want CPR if your heart stopped or whether you’d want help breathing from a machine if you were unable to breathe on your own. Some healthcare directives also ask about your preferences for religious or spiritual care if you were seriously ill and about whether you have funeral plans in place.


What if something changes once I complete my healthcare directive? Is there a way to update it?


You can update your healthcare directive as often as you’d like. Let anyone who has copies of the old healthcare directive know to discard them and provide them with copies of the updated document (i.e. your healthcare agent and doctor’s office). It’s a good idea to review your healthcare directive every few years to make sure your information is current and that it still reflects your wishes, especially if you develop a new health condition or if you have a change in marital status.


Where can I find more information and the forms to get started?


Your primary doctor or medical clinic is a good place to start. Most large healthcare systems like Allina or HealthPartners provide healthcare directive forms in their clinics and on their websites. They may also have classes that you can attend for tips and assistance about how to fill out the documents. Some JFCS Senior Services staff also have training and experience in Advance Care Planning and can help to guide you through the process!


For more information, call JFCS at 952-546-0616 or click here.