How to Start a Family Conversation about End-of-How to Start a Family Conversation about End-of-life Carelife Care

There aren’t many topics harder to bring up than the prospect of death. Maybe that’s why at the end of life, many families have to make care decisions for loved ones without knowing what they would have wanted. Being forced to improvise can shift the family’s focus from saying goodbye to managing conflicts and dealing with confusion. Experts say it’s better to talk early and often about your wishes, and there are resources you can use to start a family conversation about end-of-life care.

Breaking the taboo on talking about end-of-life issues

Journalist and commentator Ellen Goodman started The Conversation Project to help families with end-of-life care planning after caring for her aging mother. Her mother had said she didn’t want to be stuck on life support, but her situation played out very differently. During her mother’s years-long decline, Goodman had to choose everything from meals to medical treatments without knowing if she was honoring her mother’s wishes.

That experience is common. A Conversation Project survey found that although nine out of 10 adults said it was important to talk with their loved ones about end-of-life care wishes, fewer than three of 10 had done so. To make it easier, the group has created several starter kits that you can use to organize your own thoughts, share your wishes with your adult children, or find out how best to care for your aging parents.

Help for families with end-of-life care responsibilities

The Conversation Project Starter Kit is available in eight languages. There’s a separate starter kit for families dealing with dementia and a guide to talking to your doctor. The kits help you think about what you want for yourself and help you start a discussion with your parents about what they want for themselves.

For instance, do your parents want to stay at home as long as possible? If so, do you know what in-home care resources are available in their area? Would they prefer to move to a nursing home if their health and mobility reach a certain point? Are there certain healthcare procedures they want and others they wish to refuse? When do they consider hospice an option? Who do they want involved in their care?

Tips for talking about end-of-life issues

Educate yourself about Medicare coverage for end-of-life care and hospice care options so you’ll know what resources are available to you and your family. Also:

  • Be patient with yourself and your loved ones as you talk things through, and expect to have many discussions.
  • Talk with other family members, friends, counselors, or clergy to sort out your thoughts.
  • Set disagreements aside during the early stages to keep communication open.
  • Talk about how much information you’d like from doctors, how much care you want to receive and for how long, where you want to be at the end of your life, the weight you want family members’ wishes to have, your medical and personal privacy, and more.
  • When you’re satisfied with your plan, see a family or eldercare attorney to get the legal paperwork you need.

Talking about these topics isn’t fun, but it’s necessary if you want to honor your parents’ wishes for the last days of their lives.

Learn more about end-of-life care options on the blog.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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