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Making your end of life wishes heard

Contemplating end of life care isn’t a popular topic. But if you have specific wishes around how you’d like to experience your last days, planning is vital. April 1-5 is National Advance Care Planning (ACP) Week, encouraging people to speak up and be heard about what matters most to you, particularly as you age.
Advance Care Planning Australia (ACPA) reports around half of Australians will not be able to make their own end-of-life medical decisions, yet few people take the active steps required to enable control of their future health care.
“Typically, Australians think about life and death as black and white, yet in reality there’s an extended ‘grey’ period, with more of us living with ongoing health issues. In fact, 85 per cent of people die after a chronic illness, not a sudden event,” the report states.
Across aged care homes run by not for profit organisation Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH), residents and their families are encouraged to fill in Advance Care Directive forms when they move in.
Carly Underwood, Care Manager at VMCH’s St Catherine’s aged care in Balwyn, is a strong advocate for ACP.
“Having these conversations is incredibly important for clinical staff. It allows us to advocate on the resident’s behalf for things they want and choices they have made. In my experience, ACP can also take the burden off families making tough choices; ensuring everyone has an understanding of what is most important to their loved ones.”   
Carly acknowledges that while many residents and their families find the conversations too confronting, others give a lot of thought to their end of life care.  
Religion, family and music are frequently sighted by residents under the “what matters most to me” question on the form.
“When we discuss sensitive topics like this, it surprises me how open and honest a lot of our residents can be. They will often be able to articulate their wishes easily and without hesitation. It’s refreshing to have these open discussions with residents who’ve clearly led incredible and fulfilling lives.”
A common action around ACP at St Catherine’s is liaising with hospitals and doctors to ensure residents can move back to their aged care residence to pass away.
“It’s important for residents to review their end of life wishes regularly and to continue these discussions with staff and families so that we are all able to provide the best possible care when it matters most,” Carly said.
ACPA has some practical ‘conversation starters’ around end of life care on its website, here.

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