The Australian population is ageing. In fact there are now 3.8 million people aged over the age of 65. It’s not hard to see why planning for your twilight year is slowly creeping to the forefront of the national consciousness.
The latter years in a person’s life often pose difficult healthcare decisions. Depending on the health and capacity of the person, these tough decisions may be left to loved ones instead of the individual themselves.
Making the right decision for yourself in a crisis can be hard enough. Can you imagine trying to choose for a loved one, without knowing what they would want? It’s a situation that no family should face. Yet too many families encounter this hardship, without knowing it can be easily avoided.
Advance Care Planning Australia is the government funded national authority on advance care planning. In recent times their advisory service has experienced a 462% surge in callers seeking advice.
HelloCare sat down with Advance Care Planning Australia’s Advisory Services Manager, Helana Kelly.
Helena’s team helps hundreds of people each year with advance care planning. We talked about what’s involved and why more Australians are seeking information and advice on this increasingly important topic.
“Advance care planning enables people to plan for their future health care, just like you would for retirement or any other major life event. It allows people to make their preferences known in the event that they are no longer able to speak for themselves.”
“It may also involve appointing a substitute decision-maker – a person who is empowered to make decisions for you.”
“It’s important to remember that advance care planning is not just for older people. Sudden and unexpected events can happen to anyone, so every adult should strongly consider making a plan, regardless of age or health,” explained Helana.
When asked why more Australians are now choosing to make these plans in advance, rather than waiting until an emergency arises, Helana pointed at societal change and more people becoming aware of their right to make their own medical treatment decisions, as well wanting to alleviate the burden from loved ones.
“We’ve recently encountered an increase in people contacting us. There seems to be growing community awareness of advance care planning and its benefits.”
“ In some cases we receive enquiries from people having witnessed someone close to them experiencing harrowing and drawn out deaths. They are determined to take active steps to control their own care and spare themselves and their family similar hardship.”
“We are also seeing the ageing of a generation of people who have lived their lives making informed and well-considered decisions about their own bodies and health care. Understandably they want to continue this control – now and into the future – rather than leaving it to others to make these decisions.”
“There’s also a greater understanding of the pain and suffering caused to loved ones who need to make these decisions for others under stressful circumstances. Advance care planning can help families avoid that.”
“Planning for your own future, without the pressure of an immediate crisis, gives you the ability to think calmly and clearly about your own preferences. It gives you the time to speak with people close to you about what really matters to you as an individual.”
“While some people prefer to avoid the subject, the feedback we have from those who write an Advance Care Directive is positive. They say they feel that a weight has been lifted off their shoulders, and that they have done the right thing for their family,” said Helana.
While the benefits seem obvious, there is clearly more work to be done to spread the message about advance care planning.
Helana explained how Advance Care Planning Australia is starting a national conversation about advance care planning to encourage more people to make their future healthcare preferences known.
“In April 2018 we launched Australia’s first National Advanced Care Planning Week. As a result more than 100 community-based events were held across Australia to raise awareness. It’s certainly got people talking!”
“It was great to see so many people and community groups – from Townsville to Kalgoorlie and Alice Springs – really thinking about the kind of care they would want for themselves and their loved ones,” explained Helana.
When asked about people’s natural inclination to delay advance care planning and tendency to change their minds, Helana shared this advice.
“People’s lives and circumstances change. This is natural, but it shouldn’t be seen as a reason to delay to advance care planning.”
“Advance care planning shouldn’t be a one-off activity. We recommend that people revisit it every 12 months, or following a major event in their life, just to ensure that their decisions still align with their current preferences.”
“What we’ve found however is that if a person’s advance care plan is based on their values and what quality of living means to them, then these tend to remain constant, even as their life stage and circumstances change,” said Helana.
While thinking about your own mortality can be a little uncomfortable, advance care planning can go a long way to help you live life on your terms. When you consider the benefits it can give to yourself and those closest to you, it makes sense take control and plan ahead.
For more information visit Advance Care Planning Australia.
For personalised, advance care planning advice call the national advisory service on 1300 208 582, Monday to Friday 9am-5pm AEST.