No one likes to think about end-of-life scenarios, especially when it involves a loved one.
According to Kathleen Parrino, community liaison at Menorah Park in Beachwood; Jeff Reech, clinical consultation manager at Alzheimer’s Association’s Cleveland area chapter in Beachwood; and Elizabeth Schupp, executive director at Arden Courts of Chagrin Falls in Bainbridge Township, conversations are easier when they occur before a crisis.
“The best time to start that process is now,” Schupp said. “This is long before there is any type of disease or anything. Start talking to your family because you don’t ever know when something will happen. It’s tougher when it’s put off. And when someone is diagnosed with something serious or terminal, there are so many things going on.”
Starting sooner allows the patient to have more control over what happens to them.
“Sometimes that is hard to do,” Parrino stated, especially when someone isn’t sick yet. “Usually, these conversations start when there are issues going on and they aren’t easy conversations to have. But prior to someone getting sick, it’s important to have some idea what (their loved one) would want.”
Reech added, “When people start early, even though they may not need it right now, it helps because there isn’t the last minute pressure. When they do that, there are more options and choices. Starting early allows you to call your own shots so to speak.”
Early planning helps families in many ways.
“The sooner families start talking about it, the more comfortable they will be,” Schupp explained. “When (parents) start talking about their wishes, their children become more comfortable. It isn’t so much of a scary subject to broach.”
Early planning also allows families more options to broach the subject.
“If there is a friend or another family member that has experienced a medical crisis, (it’s easy) to start a conversation talking about that,” Parrino said. “That opens up the doors of conversation. That is a good segway to start thinking about things. I have found that clients, or even my own parents, have opinions about others and what they should’ve done.”
There are some things that can only be done early, like naming a health care power of attorney.
“If you wait until the last minute, it’s much harder because (the patient) has to sign this stuff,” Reech stated. “Early is better, even if you don’t use this information for a long time.”
Though early planning can help reduce some stress associated with care planning, it doesn’t necessarily make it easier.
“It’s all kinds of difficult when the roles are reversed and kids have to start looking after their parents,” Parrino stated. “But, it’s about focusing on the facts, paying attention and asking a lot of questions. A lot of the time, we want to fix the situation and make it better. People can go in guns blazing on how things have to be and they’re going to come up with resistance. Ask questions and gain an understanding of what your loved one may be going through first.”
Schupp suggested families look at planning for the best and preparing for the worst.
“It’s not an easy subject or conversation, the more often we talk about it with friends, the easier it becomes,” she noted.
Reech added, “I look at it as kind of prevention for later. We all do things like have insurance or get flu shots. We do many things just in case. But, most people don’t think about (care planning) until they have a reason. Planning ahead also gets people into the mode of helping out.”