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End of life conversations with your senior loved one

Having the End of Life Conversation with Your Senior and Family

You want the best for your aging parents through every stage of their lives. While they currently may be healthy and able to make decisions on their own, an end-of-life conversation is important to determine how they wish to live their final days. However, talking about death is stressful, uncomfortable, and often complicated for older adults and their families.

While more than 90% of people think it’s important to have end-of-life discussions, less than 30% do so, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Many adult children don’t want to upset their elderly parents or have them think they gave up on them. Seniors, themselves, don’t want to broach the subject due to shyness, denial, and confusion.

Starting the End of Life Conversation

Visiting Angels offers the following tips to guide you in a meaningful end-of-life conversation with your aging loved ones and family.

  • Break the ice by asking your senior parents their thoughts about the future and if you can help them prepare for it. The AARP suggests these opening lines:
      • “While everything is okay right now, have you thought about what matters to you at the end of life?”
      • “Mom/Dad, I’ve been thinking about the future. Have you thought about what matters to you down the road?”
      • “Mom/Dad, have you ever heard of advanced directives? Maybe we should discuss that to make sure you get the treatment you want down the road.

  • Once ready to have the conversation, ask your senior loved ones who they would like included in the discussion. Should it be just immediate family including mom, dad and the children, or would they also like to include friends, clergy, and doctors?
  • Choose a time that works best for everyone. More than one conversation typically is needed to discuss all concerns and important topics.
  • Meet in a location where everyone is comfortable and a good discussion can happen. Consider conducting a short initial conversation at a family gathering where everyone is present and, then, move further discussions to the kitchen table.
  • Create an outline of important points and stick to them. This is not the time to discuss personal grievances and family problems.

End of Life Questions to Ask Your Senior

Specific questions can help move the conversation in the right direction and avoid the discussion turning into a debate. Focus on your parents’ responses and not everyone else’s opinions.

The following questions are difficult to ask but important in determining their end-of-life wishes:

  • “When you think about the final phase of your life, where would you like to spend it? Do you want to receive end-of life-care in the home as long as possible or remain in the hospital?” Many seniors may not realize that they have end-of-life care options.
  • “Do you need to address any legal matters or have private conversations with family members about your decisions?”
  • “Do you want to know everything about your medical condition? If your medical state declined rapidly, would you like to know how long you have to live?”
  • “Do you want to be involved in your treatment choices or do you want someone to make those decisions? Who in the family should make those tough decisions?”
  • “How long would you want to receive medical care? Would you want to continue treatment even if it affected your quality of life? Would you want to remain comfortable instead of remaining alert?”
  • “Do you want to receive life support treatments such as resuscitation and assisted breathing?”
  • “When should we shift from palliative to hospice care that focuses more on comfort than cure?”
  • “Do you want to donate organs after death?”
  • “Do you want a funeral service, and how would you like it conducted?

Again, let your senior loved ones talk and don’t make decisions for them. Let the conversation flow naturally to discuss items important to them. Record all answers and finalize decisions with them.

Action Items

Based on the end-of-life conversations, you can take steps now to get your seniors’ affairs in order to ensure their wishes are followed when the time comes.

  • Create a living will or advanced directive to outline requests in health-related situations, especially if your parents become incapacitated. Check your state’s laws regarding these documents.
  • Appoint a health care proxy with the medical power of attorney who makes the final say in their care. If a spouse or elderly person is selected, you may want to identify a secondary representative.
  • Designate a financial decision-maker with the power of attorney who can make financial decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated or unable to speak.
  • Complete “Do Not Resuscitate” orders as part of the advanced directive, if this is your parents’ wish, so the hospital staff knows if the heart or breathing stops.
  • File important documents, such as the power of attorney and advanced directives, on a computer and safe deposit box for safety and easy access. Make duplicate copies for your attorney and those designated in positions to serve in the end of life roles.

Essential Personal End of Life Care

If your senior decides to live their final days at home – as most do – you will need both medical and essential personal home care services to address their health and personal needs. While your aging parents may have in-home care now, they will need more specialized end-of-life home care services that require specially-trained care specialists.

Visiting Angels offers an End of Life Care program that provides symptom management and emotional support for the patient and their loved ones. While the focus is typically on the person nearing the end of life, Visiting Angels provides families with the support and resources needed to navigate the end of life process. While meeting the personal care needs of your special loved ones and ensuring their comfort, our caregivers can provide a helping hand to family so you can spend more time with your senior rather than running errands.

Our staff can also work alongside and support hospice providers. Understanding the emotional situation, our home care staff attends to matters behind the scenes so family members can visit and talk in privacy during this period.

Read more about How End of Life Care Can Help Seniors & Families.

If you're interested in more information about how in-home care can help your senior loved ones, contact your nearest Visiting Angels office today or call 800-365-4189.
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