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Survey: 9 in 10 Americans say discussing end-of-life care important

The holiday season will soon be in full swing, and families throughout New Jersey will gather to enjoy the festivities. While the holidays are a wonderful time to remember and appreciate our shared past, some families these days are also using the holidays to discuss what is often a more uncertain aspect of life: the future.

According to a survey done by the Conversation Project, about nine out of 10 Americans recognize the importance of discussing end-of-life medical care with loved ones, but only three out of every 10 have actually sat down and had the talk. The same survey also found that one-fifth of Americans who have not yet spoken with their loved ones about end-of-life care are waiting for those loved ones to broach the topic.

Earlier this year, the New Jersey Hospital Association made available the Practitioners Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment document, which patients with serious illnesses can fill out with their doctors to clarify treatment preferences. The POLST is meant to document the wishes of patients who may soon not be able to make their own medical decisions.

However, individuals do not have to wait until a terminal illness has been diagnosed to clarify end-of-life wishes. A proxy directive -- or durable power of attorney -- lets you name a person who will have legal permission to make healthcare decisions in the event that you can't.

There is also a document called an instructive directive -- or a living will -- that can address your preferences regarding particular medical treatments. This document can effectively save beloved family members from having to make extremely difficult decisions on your behalf.

While the topic of end-of-life wishes may not be the easiest to address, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that patients who discussed their end-of-life preferences with loved ones didn't feel as fearful or anxious about future healthcare decisions.

Our elder law page has more information about documenting end-of-life wishes.

Source: njtoday.net, "[OPINION] Empowering Patients In End-of-Life Care Decision Making," Mary E. O'Dowd and Betsy Ryan, Nov. 25, 2013

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