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  • Writer's pictureCindy Davis

Advance Care Planning: 7 Urgent Reasons

Empowering Choices, Ensuring Peace: Navigating Your Health Future with Confidence


Senior couple thoughtfully engaging in advance care planning, symbolizing the peace and empowerment brought by making informed healthcare decisions.

In the GeriScope community, where understanding and navigating the complexities of aging and end-of-life care are paramount, the topic of advance care planning is of utmost importance. It’s not just a matter of preference; it’s a crucial step in ensuring that your medical care aligns with your wishes, especially in times when you may not be able to voice them. This guide highlights seven key reasons why engaging in advance care planning is essential and the importance of selecting a healthcare advocate.


The Imperative of Advance Care Planning Amidst Life's Uncertainties

In the ever-evolving landscape of health and well-being, the importance of advance care planning (ACP) extends far beyond the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The year 2021 witnessed various leading causes of unexpected deaths, notably heart attacks, unintentional injuries, strokes, and yes, COVID-19. These health events starkly remind us that medical emergencies can arise suddenly, often leaving patients incapacitated and unable to communicate their healthcare preferences.


Unexpected Health Crises and the Need for Preparedness

Heart attacks and strokes, ranking as some of the top causes of death, can occur without warning, profoundly impacting a person’s ability to make decisions. Similarly, unintentional injuries - a broad category encompassing various accidents - can lead to sudden health crises. According to the Centers for Disease Control mortality statistics, more than 1.5 million people died from these causes in 2021, representing 58% of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. Further, in the Health and Retirement Study, 70% of participants who were age 60 and older at death and who faced treatment decisions in the final days of their lives were incapable of participating in these decisions. In these scenarios, the absence of an advance care plan can place immense pressure on both the medical team and the patient's loved ones, who may not be present or able to reach the hospital in time to provide guidance.

The reality of these unexpected health events underscores the need for everyone, regardless of age or current health status, to engage in ACP. Identifying a healthcare agent to speak on your behalf if you are unable to do so is a crucial step. This process involves articulating your healthcare values and preferences, ensuring that in-the-moment decisions made by healthcare providers align with your wishes.


The Stress on Medical Teams and Families

When healthcare decisions need to be made swiftly, and there is no advance directive in place, the medical team faces the challenging task of providing care that they hope aligns with the patient's wishes. This situation is not only stressful for healthcare providers but also for family members who may later question whether the care provided truly reflected what their loved one would have wanted.

The unpredictability of life’s health emergencies, be it a heart attack, stroke, accident, or a pandemic, serves as a poignant reminder of the urgency of advance care planning. It's not just about making choices for potential future scenarios; it's about ensuring that your voice is heard during unexpected medical crises. For healthcare professionals across all disciplines, integrating ACP conversations into regular patient interactions is vital. These discussions are essential for providing patient-centered care that respects individual values and reduces the burden on families and medical teams during critical moments. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to prioritize advance care planning as a fundamental component of healthcare.


The Time is Now: 7 Imperative Reasons to Engage in Advance Care Planning

7 Urgent Resaons To Do Advance Care Planning Graphic Summary

Brain with curly circles representing how advance care planning clarifies wishes and preferences.

Reason #1: Clarifying Wishes and Preferences in Advance Care Planning

One of the most compelling reasons for advance care planning lies in its ability to clarify an individual's medical goals, treatment preferences, and care priorities, particularly in situations where they might be unable to communicate them. A startling statistic from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals a significant gap in this area: while 82% of patients have clear preferences regarding end-of-life care, only a mere 23% have documented these wishes. This discrepancy underscores the urgent need for more robust discussions and formal documentation of care preferences. By clarifying and documenting these preferences, individuals ensure that their healthcare choices are known and respected, thereby reducing the likelihood of medical interventions that do not align with their values and desires. This aspect of advance care planning is not just a matter of personal choice but a critical step in ensuring that one's healthcare journey aligns with their individual wishes, offering peace of mind to both the individual and their loved ones. As such, encouraging and facilitating these discussions should be a priority, particularly for those navigating the complexities of aging and potential health crises.


Hands hugging a heart signifiying how advance care planning reduces family stress and uncertainty

Reason #2: Reducing Family Stress and Uncertainty through Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning is pivotal in mitigating the stress and uncertainty that often burden family members during the end-of-life care of a loved one. A significant finding from the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management highlights this impact: families who had engaged in advance care planning reported experiencing 21% less anxiety and 25% less depression during the bereavement period. This statistic not only underscores the emotional benefits of having these crucial conversations but also emphasizes the vital role of advance care planning in easing the psychological strain on families. By ensuring that a patient’s healthcare preferences are clearly communicated and documented, families are relieved of the heavy responsibility of making difficult medical decisions under stress. This process fosters a more serene and confident approach to managing a loved one's final days, ensuring decisions align with the patient's wishes. Thus, encouraging and facilitating advance care planning is essential, especially for aging populations and their families, as it significantly contributes to emotional well-being and reduces the likelihood of regretful decisions during challenging times.


Medical chart clipboard with signed advance care planning documents to ensure adherence.

Reason #3: Legal and Ethical Assurance in Advance Care Planning

The importance of advance care planning extends beyond personal preferences, playing a crucial role in ensuring legal and ethical adherence to a patient's wishes. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization reports a concerning statistic: less than 50% of severely or terminally ill patients have an advance directive recorded in their medical record. This highlights a critical gap in legal protection and ethical medical practice. Advance directives, such as living wills, not only provide legal documentation of an individual's healthcare preferences but also guide healthcare providers in delivering care that aligns ethically with the patient’s values and decisions. This legal aspect of advance care planning is instrumental in upholding the dignity and autonomy of patients, particularly those facing life-limiting illnesses. By promoting the creation and implementation of advance directives, we can ensure that medical care adheres to legal standards and respects the ethical considerations surrounding end-of-life care. Therefore, it's imperative for individuals, especially within the aging community, to understand the importance of documenting their healthcare wishes to ensure they are honored and legally protected.


Heart with rate monitor and magnifying glass signifiying how advance care planning enhances patient-entered care.

Reason #4: Enhancing Patient-Centered Medical Care Through Advance Directives

Advance care planning is crucial for ensuring patient-centered medical care, especially for older adults and individuals with serious health conditions. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open sheds light on this, revealing that patients who inform their loved ones and health care providers of their end-of-life care wishes find that those goals are carried out 90% of the time. Equally important families felt that 94% of decedents did not receive unwanted treatment, and 89% had their end-of-life wishes met. These statistics highlights the significant impact of advance directives in shaping medical care according to the patient's wishes, leading to more satisfaction with the care received. By having their preferences documented, patients can assert more control over their medical treatment, ensuring that the care they receive is tailored to their values and desires. This alignment not only enhances the quality of care but also fosters trust and communication between patients, their families, and healthcare providers. Therefore, promoting the use of advance directives in healthcare planning is essential in achieving a higher standard of patient-centered care, particularly for those navigating the complexities of aging and chronic illnesses.


Dove of peace signifiying advance care planning's contribution to emotional well being.

Reason #5: Emotional Benefits of Advance Care Planning for Seniors and Families

Advance care planning significantly contributes to emotional preparedness and closure for both seniors and their families, particularly during end-of-life care. This aspect of healthcare planning is supported by compelling data from Health Affairs, which indicates that individuals who engage in advance care planning are 36% more likely to feel at peace and 28% more prepared for the end of life. This emphasizes the profound emotional benefits of advance care planning, as it not only aids in making informed decisions but also provides a sense of control and readiness for what lies ahead. The process allows individuals and their families to address fears, discuss preferences, and establish a clear plan, which can greatly alleviate the emotional burden associated with uncertainty and the potential for unmet wishes. By promoting and facilitating these discussions, particularly within the elderly population, we can enhance the overall well-being and peace of mind for both the individuals facing end-of-life scenarios and their loved ones.


Three united balloon hearts tied with a bow signifiying how advance care planning mitigates family conflict.

Reason #6: Mitigating Family Conflict with Proactive Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning is a critical tool in mitigating family conflicts during crucial healthcare decisions, especially in the context of aging and end-of-life care. The American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine presents a striking statistic: families that engage in advance care planning experience a 50% reduction in conflicts related to healthcare decisions. This underscores the importance of clear, documented discussions about a patient's care preferences, which can prevent misunderstandings and disagreements among family members. By taking proactive steps to discuss and record care wishes, families can ensure that decision-making processes are unified and respectful of the patient's desires, thus maintaining family harmony during emotionally charged times. Therefore, in the realm of elderly care and end-of-life planning, promoting advance care planning is essential not just for honoring the patient's autonomy but also for creating a supportive, conflict-free environment for families navigating these complex situations.


Lightbulb and shaking hands signifiying how advance care planning promotes dignity and respect

Reason #7: Promoting Dignity and Respect through Advance Care Planning

A pivotal aspect of advance care planning, particularly crucial for seniors and individuals with serious health conditions, is its role in promoting dignity and respect in healthcare. A striking statistic from the Canadian Medical Association Journal reveals that 90% of patients who engaged in advance care planning felt their dignity was more respected during end-of-life care. This underscores the profound impact of expressing and documenting healthcare wishes in advance. By doing so, individuals can ensure that their end-of-life care aligns with their values and personal beliefs, leading to a more dignified and respectful healthcare experience. This aspect of advance care planning is essential in preserving the patient's sense of self and ensuring their end-of-life journey is in accordance with their wishes. Thus, fostering awareness and participation in advance care planning is a critical step towards enhancing patient-centered care, particularly for those facing the uncertainties of aging and illness.


Naming a Healthcare Agent: A Vital Step in Navigating Life's Uncertainties

In the face of life's unpredictable health challenges, such as heart attacks, strokes, unintentional injuries, and illnesses like COVID-19, one of the most critical actions you can take is to designate a healthcare agent. This step in advance care planning is not just a prudent measure; it's a necessary one to ensure your healthcare decisions are guided by someone who understands and respects your wishes, especially in situations where you might be unable to communicate them yourself.


3 Reasons Why a Healthcare Agent is Essential

  1. Unforeseen Medical Emergencies: Given the sudden nature of many health emergencies, having a designated healthcare agent means that there is always someone to advocate on your behalf, making decisions aligned with your preferences and values.

  2. Relieving Burden on Families: In the absence of a healthcare agent, family members are often left to guess what you would have wanted, leading to potential stress and family conflicts. By appointing an agent, you provide clear guidance, reducing the burden on your loved ones during already challenging times.

  3. Ensuring Your Wishes are Respected: A healthcare agent acts as your voice, ensuring that the medical care you receive is in line with your wishes. This is particularly important in emergency situations where quick decisions are necessary and loved ones may not be immediately available to provide input.


In an age where medical emergencies can occur without warning, naming a healthcare agent is a crucial aspect of advance care planning. It’s a step that not only safeguards your health preferences but also provides peace of mind for both you and your loved ones. For healthcare providers, encouraging patients to appoint a healthcare agent should be a routine part of care, ensuring preparedness for any of life’s unexpected turns. This simple yet profound act can make a significant difference in how healthcare decisions are made during critical moments, reflecting the true essence of patient-centered care.

Embracing Preparedness with Advance Care Planning

In summary, advance care planning is an essential process for anyone navigating the complexities of health and aging. The seven key reasons we've discussed - from clarifying wishes to preventing family conflicts and promoting dignity in care - highlight the multifaceted benefits of this critical practice. These reasons, supported by compelling evidence and statistics, underscore the importance of having a plan in place for unexpected health crises.


Don’t forget. Naming a healthcare agent is a pivotal component of advance care planning. This person becomes your voice, ensuring that your healthcare choices are respected, especially in emergencies where you may not be able to communicate. The appointment of a healthcare agent relieves the emotional and decision-making burden from your family and ensures that your medical care aligns with your personal values and wishes.


We understand that advance care planning can be a complex process, which is why we are committed to providing ongoing support and information. In future posts, GeriScope will delve deeper into essential topics such as:

  • What should be included in an advance care plan.

  • How to choose the right healthcare agent who aligns with your values and can advocate effectively on your behalf.

  • Effective ways to document your healthcare wishes to ensure they are understood and followed.


We encourage you to return to GeriScope for these insightful discussions. Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge and tools necessary to make informed decisions about your healthcare, ensuring that your journey through aging and health challenges is navigated with dignity, respect, and personal choice. Remember, advance care planning is not just about preparing for the future; it’s about taking control of your healthcare journey today.


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