End-of-life care decisions are important

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The Senior Agenda Coalition’s Ninth Annual Senior Conference and Expo will be held on October 21st at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. One notable workshop will feature The Conversation Project, an organization dedicated to helping people learn how talk about their wishes for end-of-life. Ellen Goodman, former Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe columnist, helped found it in 2010. Ellen and her mother had been very close, talking almost every day, but they never discussed her mother’s wishes about her end-of-life care. Then her mother’s condition changed and suddenly Ellen’s mother could no longer communicate with her.  Ellen found herself in the role of decision-maker about her mother’s care without any idea of what her mother would have wanted. Ellen suggests that many wrongly think the decision about end-of-life care will be “do we pull the plug or not?” Her experience, which was much more typical, meant having the stress of making an ongoing series of difficult decisions on her mother’s behalf, such as whether to have her on a respirator to treat pneumonia.

After retiring, Ellen joined others with similar experiences to form The Conversation Project to educate the public about the importance of discussing end-of-life care with spouses and relatives before it was too late. Combining forces with a healthcare think tank, they used their communication skills to create a starter kit for “having the conversation.” This instrument walks the reader through the process of preparing for and having the end-of-life care discussion with their loved ones. It’s free on their website www.theconversationproject.org. Ellen became a nationwide speaker promoting The Conversation Project, as she did as Keynoter at our 2012 Conference. The Conversation Project also presented an excellent workshop at that Conference and again in 2013.

We invited The Conversation Project back for this year’s Conference because “having the conversation” remains an important topic. A recent survey found that 90% of people said talking with their loved ones about end of life care was important, but only 27% had done so. There have been positive developments. Medicare now reimburses doctors for time spent having end-of-life conversations with patients. The Conversation Project has new guides for having these conversations with your doctor, and for families and loved ones to have with people with dementias.

When I recently discussed my end-of-life care wishes with my wife, she said they differed greatly from what she remembered from our last conversation many years ago. Back then I was all for aggressive care, using any means necessary. Perhaps informed by subsequent experiences like being present as my closest friend died a peaceful death under home hospice care, I now have a different vision of a good death. These are often ongoing conversations.

A healthcare expert told me that having the conversation and making your wishes known is even more important than a so-called living will, because complying with what the patient would have wanted is what hospitals and other providers are expected to do.

Registration for our Conference will be available on our Website www.senioragendari.org after Labor Day or by calling 351-6710.

William F. Flynn, Jr.

On The Senior Agenda by William F. Flynn, Jr.

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