July 19th, 2010 at 1:11 am
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Have You Shared Your Important Wishes?

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

Families often hear an older family member say “’I do not want to live with my children” or  “Do not put me in a nursing home.” Sound familiar? There is a lot to be said for being proactive and I was grateful to have had the discussion with my mom about specific wishes many years before her hearing, memory and overall health declined.

In the late 1960’s her father developed what she referred to as senility and she became afraid of developing Alzheimer’s disease in her later years. Mom was very clear on what she did and did not want if her health failed so I felt having something in writing and notarized could be useful if a situation developed where our family could use some guidelines. We all know how a person’s life can dramatically change and sometimes the disability can include an inability to communicate verbally or through writing.

What we ended up creating was a document centered around her wishes if she had Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, a stroke or some other neurological impairment. I was her Health Care Power of Attorney and she knew I would respect her wishes. She did not want any extraordinary means if she was seriously ill, and that included a feeding tube. With sensitivity to her concerns about Alzheimer’s disease, I offered suggestions of situations that might occur with her health and she created specific statements related to what should be done if she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease versus more being impaired. During the last few months of her life, as my mom became frailer and was losing weight, the time came when she had given up and was hardly eating. It was very clear that inserting a feeding tube at this time would not be honoring her wishes and that it was time to bring in Hospice for her final weeks.

Conversations like this are not easy but I can tell you from personal experience that the last weekend I spent with my mom was peaceful. I did try and encourage her to eat and drink a little but when she refused, I just let it be. Mom sensed I understood and for that she was grateful. She slept a lot but I brought a CD with me that helped to bring me peace while I was at her bedside. We also spent time looking at old photo albums together and said our goodbyes. 

I am currently putting together a similar document. I know how important it is to let others who may be involved in our care to understand our end of life wishes if the time comes we cannot clearly state them. Article with additional information: Take Charge of Your Medical Information: Communication is a Two-Way Street

The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought,
and attended to my answer.”  
Henry David Thoreau

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