End-of-life Care Education

End-of-life care isn’t usually a top-of-mind topic. In fact, a recent study found that many people know little about it. But understanding your choices and making them known now can ensure you get the care you want if you ever become seriously ill or hurt.

Planning for yourself

In the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers looked at the results of a national health survey. Nearly 8,000 adults answered questions about their lifestyle and well being. They were also asked about end-of-life care. Only 26 out of 100 people said they had any such plans in place. Almost one-third said they had no interest or knowledge about the topic.

End-of-life care is also known as advanced care planning. It starts with a legal document called an advance directive. This document has directions for your doctor, loved ones, and others about the type of care you want if you can’t tell them yourself. Two key parts of an advance directive are a living will and a durable power of attorney.

A living will explains the types of care you would want in an end-of-life situation. For instance, you can choose whether you would want to be put on a ventilator to help you breathe. You can also list your wishes for tests, procedures, or medicines. A durable power of attorney lets you appoint a health care proxy. That’s someone who can make health-related decisions for you.

Considering your choices

No matter your age or health, it’s a good idea to think about end-of-life care. You never know when you may face a medical emergency. Having a plan in place may improve your quality of life in the time up to your death.

An advance directive doesn’t need to be long and complicated. It simply needs to explain your wishes. It also doesn’t have to be a formal legal document. Most doctors honor patient decisions even if they are handwritten.

When considering end-of-life care, keep these points in mind:

  • Make sure your advance directive follows your state’s laws on end-of-life care. Some states call for such forms or papers to be notarized.

  • Give a copy to your doctor, family members, and any others who you think should know your wishes. You should also tell all loved ones about your decisions to help avoid conflict.

  • Carefully choose your health care proxy. Talk with that person about your decision. Make sure he or she agrees to the role. Your spouse or a close relative may not always be the best choice. He or she may be too clouded by grief if you are close to death.

  • Review your advance directive from time to time. You can update it as needed if you change your mind. Be sure to give a revised copy to everyone who received the previous version.

Learn more about planning for end of life.

Online resources

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Technologies for End-of-life Care Education

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What to Expect for End-of-life Care Education

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Side Effects and Risk Factors for End-of-life Care Education

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Education and Resources for End-of-life Care Education

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