Talking to a Parent About an Advance Directive

Talking to a Parent About an Advance DirectiveNo one wants to think about a parent dying. Unfortunately, it is not something we can avoid forever. We also must face the possibility that at some point, an elderly loved one may no longer be able to make decisions for themselves. This is why an advance directive is so important.

Sometimes referred to as a living will, an advance directive enables an individual to give instructions for their medical treatment. It also can be used to appoint someone to make decisions for them if they are unable.

An advance directive will cover issues such as whether a parent wishes to be resuscitated if they stop breathing or their heart stops; whether they wish to be tube fed; or if they want to be put on dialysis or a ventilator.

There are basically two types of advance directives:

  1. A living will is a legal document that helps medical professionals and loved ones understand the type of life-sustaining measures an individual would or would not want to be used.
  2. A durable power of attorney for health care allows an individual to legally designate a person to make medical decisions if they are unable to do so.

Talking with a parent about their wishes for end-of-life care can be uncomfortable but it is still necessary. Further, even if you have talked to your parent about their wishes, it is important to have those wished in writing. This will help to avoid disagreements between family members. Having your parent’s wishes written down also can alleviate any guilt you may feel when asked to make life or death decisions. Finally, even though you may be able to make decisions about your parent’s care without an advance directive, you will have more control over those decisions with such a document.

Many adult children shy away from having a conversation about an advance directive out of fear that their parent will think they want or expect them to die soon. Others simply don’t want to think about death. Despite these fears, it is important to have this talk with your parent and the sooner the better. Here are some tips for getting the conversation started:

  1. Use someone else’s experience. Talk about someone who was in a situation where they had to make medical decisions on behalf of a loved one. It doesn’t even have to be an older person. Ask you parent what they would want if they were in that situation.
  2. Take advantage of major life events. Is your parent moving to a retirement home or updating their will? Suggest a living will as another thing they should get in order.
  3. Do it yourself. Consider setting up an advance directive for yourself and ask your parent if they would like to do the same.

Finally, let your parent know that you want them to have an advance directive in place because you love them. While this can be an awkward topic, it also can be a wonderful opportunity to reinforce how much you care about them and that you want to honor their wishes.