It can be tempting to think of advance care planning as a simple act of writing down your wishes and naming someone to act on your behalf. But advance care planning is more than a document its a process of reflection and decision-making that can evolve and change over time. Here are ten milestones that should prompt you to either make or review your plan with others:
You get/renew your drivers license the sad reality is that motor vehicle accidents remain a leading cause of injury and death. Make sure you name a Substitute Decision Maker and tell them about your wishes for care in case you are injured and cannot speak for yourself.
You get married A marriage can mean a change in your Substitute Decision Maker, the person who will speak for you if cannot. This is also an important time to have a conversation with your partner to clearly outline your wishes for care.
You move away from family/friends Work or personal matters can take you far away from loved ones who might someday have to act quickly or travel to help care for you. Make sure they know your preferences for care it will help reduce their stress during a traumatic time.
You have a baby A new life brings added responsibilities, and the opportunity to discuss and review your plan and end of life wishes with others, especially your Substitute Decision Maker.
Your health care team changes Changing your doctor or seeing a new health professional provides the perfect opportunity to bring up your advance care plan and to ensure that health professionals know who you have named as a Substitute Decision Maker.
You have a major health concern Technology is enabling more Canadians to live longer with chronic illnesses, but it can also result in medical interventions that may be unacceptable to you. Its important to let others know how you feel.
You get divorced This may be a time to review your choice of Substitute Decision Maker, especially if the divorce is acrimonious.
You re-locate to another province/territory Advance care planning documentation and terminology varies across the country. While the conversation with your Substitute Decision Maker is the most important thing you can do, its a good idea to make sure that any written plans meet with provincial/territorial guidelines.
Your Substitute Decision Maker dies or is ill Its important that your Substitute Decision Maker is both able and willing to act on your behalf, especially during what may be a difficult time.
You change your mind life changes, and so may your wishes for end of life care. Regularly reviewing your plan and your choice of Substitute Decision Maker will help to ensure that you receive the end of life care that you want and deserve. April 16th National Advance Care Planning Day is a great annual reminder!
Maryse Bouvette is the Coordinator of the Palliative Pain and Symptom Management Consulation Service at Bruyere Continuing Care, and a member of the National Advance Care Planning Task Group.