Five things you may not know about Advance Care Planning

Talking about what may happen as we approach the end of our lives is not an everyday conversation. For some of us, picturing what things might look like if people need to speak on our behalf is overwhelming. The whole thing can feel dis-empowering, making you feel like you won’t have control over your life for much longer.

This article is here to help change those mindsets and unpack what Advance Care Planning can really mean for you.

1. It is for everyone

Advance Care Planning is exactly what it sounds like – it is the process of making a plan ahead of time. According to Advance Care Planning Australia, it is a way to ‘ensure your loved ones and doctors know what your health and personal preferences really are’. In this way, putting together an Advance Care Plan is not just for those who are terminally ill. In fact the opposite can be said to be true. There are two main questions that frame the process of Advance Care Planning and they are;

a. If you were unwell who would you want to speak for you AND

b. What you want them to say.

The perfect time to answer these two questions is when you are in a sound state of mind. That’s why Advance Care Planning is for everyone. It provides a chance to consider the things that are important to you, ahead of time. This could include your personal beliefs, cultural practices and preferences. Some people also reflect on their prior experiences with illness, for themselves or someone they know. This gives them a chance to determine how they may want things to happen (or not happen), for them.

2. It’s about giving you choice, not taking it away

It is normal to feel uneasy when the subjects of illness and dying are raised. Especially when those topics are being related to you. Advance Care Planning is by no means an easy process. However, it ensures you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to decisions made about your health and well-being. It is your chance to have your say.

Of course in life and health there is always the unexpected. No one can map out how there last days and moments will pan out. Yet having an Advance Care Plan means you can manage the variables that are in your control. For some, the process has given them a sense of empowerment and freedom. It provides closure that their wishes will be made and allowed them to ultimately get on with enjoying life.

3. It’s not just about you

Having your health care preferences in writing makes things a lot easier for the people in your life. It takes the guess work out of what your wants may be, in the event that you can’t communicate them. These situations bring hardship. So if the tough decisions have already been made on your behalf, it lightens the load.

Often people with an Advance Care Plan start to discuss with their loved ones, some of the decisions they have made. Initially these types of chats may seem tough, yet you may be surprised by the burden it lifts for everyone involved. These moments give you the rare chance to express to those you value most, your fears and concerns about any unknowns.

4. It doesn’t have to involve family

An Advance Care Plan provides you with the option to determine who will be the decision makers for your care. For some, putting family members in this position wouldn’t be their preference. The process asks you to consider a number of different people who could fill this role. This could include friends, legal counsel, a contact in the health sector, or even a religious adviser.

Carol’s story is a great example of how Advance Care Planning helped her to reflect on her values. In the end she decided to place her friends as the decision makers in her care. Carol saw that her friends had the ‘best capacity to carry out her wishes in a crisis’. Everyone’s situation is different in life when it comes to their circle of family, friends and carers. Going through this process means you can draw on the people who matter most to you.

5. The best time to get started is when you are healthy and feeling well

Advance Care Planning gets you to consider some tough questions. It also gives you a moment to reflect on the significant people in your life. The best time to map out plans for your future is when you are able to calmly consider your needs and wants. As in Carol’s story and many like it, developing an Advance Care Plan can give you a sense of relief. It means you have put some structure around the inevitable. It can also help remind you of the community of support already surrounding you. Providing you with the freedom and space to enjoy living well.

Did you know that Carrington Health can complete your Advance Care Plan with you? For more information and to get started contact acp@carringtonhealth.org.au or call 03 9890 2220.  

If this article has raised issues for your or someone you know, support is available:

  • For immediate help contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
  • You also have the option to arrange counselling through our Steps Mental Health and other services by contacting us 
  • Beyond Blue have some great stories and resources for older adults which can be found via Beyond Blue Resources