09/23/17

How To Take Charge Of Your End-Of-Life Care—And Why You Should Care About It Right Now

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Simple tips for navigating the world of advance directives and health care proxies.

It’s not an easy subject, but end-of-life planning is a necessary one to to consider.

To get started, it’s a good idea for every adult over 18 to create an advance directive—a set of legal documents that typically has two components: a health care power of attorney, in which you appoint someone called a health care proxy to make decisions for you if you’re unable to, and a living will, in which you lay out your end-of-life treatment preferences.

You might specify, for example, that you consent to antibiotics and pain medications but not CPR, which can cause internal injuries. You can also state that you prefer to die at home. In fact, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, people with advance directives are more likely to avoid dying in a hospital.

Assembling the documents is easy. You fill out paperwork available online through your state’s Department of Aging, and these documents become legally valid after you sign them in front of witnesses. The number of witnesses required varies by state, but you don’t need a lawyer, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. After signing the paperwork, give copies to your health care proxy and your doctor. You can change your plan at any time.

Despite the ease of creating the documents, most Americans haven’t done it. In the most thorough study on the topic to date, University of Pennsylvania researchers examined data on more than 795,000 people from 150 studies and found that advance directives were only slightly more prevalent among people with chronic illnesses (38.2%) than healthy adults (32.7%).

“We need to address common barriers to filling out these important documents, particularly among chronically ill patients,” says study co-author Katherine Courtright, MD, an instructor of medicine at Penn. These obstacles include a reluctance to talk to family members about end-of-life preferences—one Yale study found that 40% of people ages 55 and older said they hadn’t broached the topic with relatives—and concerns about the potential time and expense involved.

“Dying in America today can be a protracted, painful, and traumatic experience,” says Sara Moorman, PhD, an associate professor of sociology at Boston College. “And that’s unfortunate, because we possess the know-how to make most deaths comfortable and even meaningful.”

Here are two resources to get you started:

The Conversation Project
Studies have shown that many people don’t talk to family members about what medical interventions they would or wouldn’t want at the end of life. The Conversation Project, however, can help you do just that. The site provides starter kits for family discussions and for appointing a health care proxy.

Prepare for Your Care
Prepareforyourcare.org provides advance directive forms and takes you through filling them out and sharing them with family and medical providers.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/5/17

Despite advance directive, Oregon dementia patient denied last wish, says spouse

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Nora Harris, 64, a former librarian, signed an advance directive after her diagnosis to prevent her life from being prolonged when her disease got worse. Now, her husband said, she’s being kept alive with assisted eating and drinking against her stated wishes.

Bill Harris walks with his wife, Nora, at the Fern Gardens memory care center in Medford, Oregon. Nora Harris, 64, has late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. A former librarian and world traveler, she had signed an advance directive stipulating no care to prolong her life. Controversy has arisen over her husband’s claim that state law is forcing her to be spoon-fed against her stated wishes.

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Bill Harris is blunt: For more than a year, he has been trying to help his wife die.

The 75-year-old retired tech worker says it’s his duty to Nora Harris, his spouse of nearly four decades, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2009.

“Let me be honest: Yes. It’s what she wanted,” he said. “I want her to pass. I want her to end her suffering.”

Nora Harris, 64, a former librarian, signed an advance directive after her diagnosis to prevent her life from being prolonged when her disease got worse. Now, her husband said, she’s being kept alive with assisted eating and drinking against her stated wishes.

The onetime Virginia Woolf scholar and world traveler can no longer communicate, recognize family members or feed herself. She’s being spoon-fed at Fern Gardens, an assisted-living center in southern Oregon, after a local judge ruled against Bill Harris last summer, concluding that state law mandates that she continue to receive help.

“She did not want to be in a position where somebody had to totally take care of her,” Bill Harris said. “When nature, through the disease, basically said, ‘I can’t feed myself,’ Nora’s position was, that’s it. Let nature take its course.”

In recent weeks, Nora Harris has been gaining weight, climbing from less than 100 pounds to 102 or 103 — just enough to keep her stable. Bill Harris learned that, in addition to three state-required daily meals, staffers have been feeding Nora optional snacks, too.

Now he’s considering going back to court to try to stop the snacks in an effort to let Nora Harris lose enough weight to end her life. Twice before, in 2015 and 2016, she fell to 90 pounds and was enrolled in hospice, with six months or less to live, only to rebound, he said, when staffers coaxed her to eat.

“You’re denying Nora the right to die on her terms,” Bill Harris said. “It’s not a right-to-life issue, it’s a right-to-die issue.”

The southern Oregon case underscores the complexity surrounding the use of advance directives for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Bill and Nora Harris met at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House in the early 1970s and launched a four-decade marriage that included world travel. Nora Harris was a librarian and a Virginia Woolf scholar who told family and friends she never wanted to be utterly dependent on others for care.

Advance directives are legal documents that spell out a person’s end-of-life wishes if they are unable to make their own decisions.

These directives generally allow named agents the power to withdraw artificial hydration and nutrition in the form of feeding tubes, for instance. But when that same nourishment is offered by hand, several states, including Oregon, draw a line, said Thaddeus Mason Pope, director of the Health Law Institute at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and an expert on end-of-life law.

Across the U.S., the more than 5 million people living with dementia are typically encouraged to put their end-of-life wishes into writing early and to pick a trusted person to carry them out, said Beth Kallmyer, vice president of constituent services for the Alzheimer’s Association.

That’s no guarantee, however, that those requests can — or will — be honored. In Nora Harris’ court case, her advance directive and testimony from her husband, her daughter and two close friends all indicated that she wouldn’t want anything to prolong her life.

“That court decision basically condemned Nora to the full extent of the Alzheimer’s disease,” Bill Harris said. “They gave her no exit out of this situation.”

But Eric Foster, the court-appointed lawyer who represented Nora Harris, argued that her directive doesn’t specifically mention food and drink presented by hand. Because she now opens her mouth and swallows when food is offered, she has, in essence, changed her mind, he said in a court document.

Bill Harris said that opening her mouth is a reflex, an automatic response to six decades of habit.

Kallmyer, with the Alzheimer’s Association, said it’s hard to tell whether someone with dementia is acting out of reflex or desire. The association recommends against tube-feeding for patients with dementia, while also advising what they call “careful hand-feeding.”

“If they’re eating and they’re opening their mouth, it’s difficult to say they didn’t want it,” she said.

Foster’s stance was backed by a judge who sympathized with Bill Harris’ plight, but sided with Fred Steele, Oregon’s ombudsman on long-term care. Steele said Nora Harris’ advance directive wasn’t specific enough to advise Fern Gardens staff to withhold food and water.

“Our concern was just focused on the administrative rule,” he said. “If the rule exists to prevent a facility from committing elder abuse, our focus was on what the rule required. The rule requires the resident be cued with food and they have the choice of eating or not eating.”

Lynn Rawlins, the center’s administrator, said her hands are tied.

“We have to feed them until they stop opening their mouths,” she said before a tour of the center last month. “Unless feeding them causes more harm from aspirational pneumonia or a choking factor. We still have to feed them, even if they choke.”

Nora Harris is a small woman with graying brown hair and dark, confused eyes. On a recent 88-degree summer afternoon, she wore a maroon fleece sweater, gray sweatpants and mismatched socks.

She spoke in urgent whispers, syllables spilling out, unlinked from words.

Bill Harris put an arm around her shoulders reassuringly.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Of course.”

But he added later: “It’s difficult visiting her, especially when you know what Nora was like before.”

That’s the thorny issue at the heart of advance directives for people who lose the capacity to make their own decisions, said Pope.

If Nora Harris were aware enough to refuse food, instead of passively accepting it, there would be no question.

“Do we listen to the previous Nora or to the current Nora?” Pope said. “That is, unfortunately, not legally or ethically answered well.”

A bill introduced in the Oregon Legislature last year would have allowed an appointed committee to amend the state’s advance-directive form. Critics, including Oregon Right to Life, an advocacy group, opposed the effort, arguing that it paved the way for mistreatment of vulnerable people, including dementia patients like Nora Harris.

“OR legislators move to allow starving, dehydrating the mentally ill,” one headline read. The bill passed the state Senate, but failed to advance.

Nora Harris’ situation also raises issues surrounding a controversial method of hastening death for seriously ill people known as “voluntarily stopping eating and drinking,” or VSED. It causes death through dehydration, usually in seven to 14 days.

VSED is being used by a small but growing number of determined patients with the help of their families, Pope said.

In Washington state, board members at End of Life Washington, a nonprofit that supports medical aid-in-dying, created an advance directive focused on people with dementia. Soon the group plans to release a new form for people who want to leave instructions for stopping eating and drinking at the end of life.

Medical experts say VSED can be a relatively painless, peaceful death. In the absence of nutrition and hydration, the body produces opiate-like substances that blunt hunger and thirst. With additional painkillers, comfort can be ensured, they add.

An analysis of VSED research concluded that “terminally ill patients dying of dehydration or starvation do not suffer if adequate palliative care is provided.” A 2003 survey of nurses in Oregon who helped more than 100 patients with VSED deaths said they were “good” deaths, with a median score of eight on a nine-point scale.

Unlike aid-in-dying laws or rulings now in place in six states, VSED doesn’t require a government mandate or doctor’s authorization.

But the question of whether people with dementia can authorize a VSED death in advance, to be enacted later, when they’ve lost the capacity to choose, remains legally uncertain, Pope said.

“We don’t have statutes, we don’t have regulations, we don’t have a court case,” Pope said. “We have this thing where you’re allowed to refuse medical care. But this is basic care. Are you allowed to refuse basic care?”

For now, the answer in the case of Nora Harris is no.

That’s frustrating for Bill Harris, who says the emotional — and financial — toll of her illness has been enormous.

“The person you know, the person you married, who you love, is basically going away, fading away before your eyes,” he said.

He had planned to retire from his job at Wells Fargo Bank at age 67 but worked an extra eight years to pay for the costs of Nora’s care, which total more than $80,000 out-of-pocket each year. Because she fell ill at age 56, she didn’t qualify for Medicare or other government help.

Worse, though, is seeing his once “extremely bright” wife wandering the halls of the assisted-living center, “like a zombie,” he said.

“Nora was quite enamored of Virginia Woolf,” Bill Harris said, referencing the British author who drowned herself after years of mental illness.

“If she had known this would happen, she would have put rocks in her pockets and jumped in the river. This is absolutely where she never wanted to be.”

Complete Article HERE!

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08/24/17

Medicare covers the cost of care-planning sessions

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In 2016, the first year health-care providers were allowed to bill for an end-of-life consultation, nearly 575,000 Medicare beneficiaries took part in the conversations, new federal data obtained by Kaiser Health News show.

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The 90-year-old woman in the San Diego-area nursing home was quite clear, said Dr. Karl Steinberg. She didn’t want aggressive measures to prolong her life. If her heart stopped, she didn’t want CPR.

But when Steinberg, a palliative-care physician, relayed those wishes to the woman’s daughter, the younger woman would have none of it.

“She said, ‘I don’t agree with that. My mom is confused,’ ” Steinberg recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ ”

Instead of arguing, Steinberg used an increasingly popular tool to resolve the impasse last month. He brought mother and daughter together for an advance care-planning session, an end-of-life consultation that’s now being paid for by Medicare.

In 2016, the first year health-care providers were allowed to bill for the service, nearly 575,000 Medicare beneficiaries took part in the conversations, new federal data obtained by Kaiser Health News shows.

Nearly 23,000 providers submitted about $93 million in charges, including more than $43 million covered by the federal program for seniors and the disabled.

Use was much higher than expected, nearly double the 300,000 people the American Medical Association projected would receive the service in the first year.

That’s good news to proponents of the sessions, which focus on understanding and documenting treatment preferences for people nearing the end of their lives. Patients, and often, their families, discuss with a doctor or other provider what kind of care they want if they’re unable to make decisions themselves.

“I think it’s great that half a million people talked with their doctors last year. That’s a good thing,” said Paul Malley, president of Aging with Dignity, a Florida nonprofit that promotes end-of-life discussions. “Physician practices are learning. My guess is that it will increase each year.”

Still, only a fraction of eligible Medicare providers — and patients — have used the benefit, which pays about $86 for the first 30-minute office visit and about $75 for additional sessions.

Nationwide, slightly more than 1 percent of more than 56 million Medicare beneficiaries who enrolled at the end of 2016 received advance-care planning talks, according to calculations by health-policy analysts at Duke University. But use varied widely among states, from 0.2 percent of Alaska Medicare recipients to 2.49 percent of those enrolled in the program in Hawaii.

“There’s tremendous variation by state. That’s the first thing that jumps out,” said Donald Taylor Jr., a Duke professor of public policy.

In part, that’s because many providers, especially primary-care doctors, aren’t aware that the Medicare reimbursement agreement, approved in 2015, has taken effect.

“Some physicians don’t know that this is a service,” said Barbie Hays, a Medicare coding and compliance strategist for the American Academy of Family Physicians. “They don’t know how to get paid for it. One of the struggles here is we’re trying to get this message out to our members.”

There also may be lingering controversy over the sessions, which were famously decried as “death panels” during the 2009 debate about the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this year, the issue resurfaced in Congress, where Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced the Protecting Life Until Natural Death Act, which would halt Medicare reimbursement for advance-care planning appointments.

King said the move was financially motivated and not in the interest of Americans “who were promised life-sustaining care in their older years.”

Proponents like Steinberg, however, contend that informed decisions, not cost savings, are the point of the new policy.

“It’s really important to say the reason for this isn’t to save money, although that may be a side benefit, but it’s really about person-centered care,” he said. “It’s about taking the time when people are ill, or even when they’re not ill, to talk about what their values are. To talk about what constitutes an acceptable versus an unacceptable quality of life.”

That’s just the discussion that the San Diego nursing-home resident was able to have with her daughter, Steinberg said. The 90-year-old was able to say why she didn’t want CPR or to be intubated if she became seriously ill.

“I believe it brought the two of them closer,” Steinberg said. “Even though the daughter didn’t necessarily hear what she wanted to hear. It was like, ‘You may not agree with your mom, but she’s your mom, and if she doesn’t want somebody beating her chest or ramming a tube down her throat; that’s her decision.’ ”

Complete Article HERE!

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08/19/17

To Treat or Not to Treat: What Would Your Loved Ones Want at the End of Life?

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Ensuring that the care you get reflects your wishes and values

When someone you love is hospitalized with a grave illness or injury, you may face decisions about their care.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), mechanical ventilation, tube feedings, surgery, chemotherapy or other interventions may add weeks, months or years to their life.

If your loved one has an advance directive (living will), it will spell out which interventions they want and don’t want. If they don’t have one and can’t speak for themselves, how should you proceed?

To help families learn to make good choices in this situation, Silvia Perez Protto, MD, Director of our Center for End of Life Care, answers key questions below. 

Q: What’s the first thing families should consider?

A: First, determine whether the patient is capable of making a decision about treatment. If so, your best option is to explore their wishes and values:

  • What are they expecting and hoping from treatment?
  • What are the trade-offs of treating versus not treating?
  • What risks are acceptable and not acceptable to them?
  • Which do they value more: quality of life or quantity of days?

Depending on their age, situation and views, answers will vary.

One paralyzed patient may be happy sitting with family and watching TV. Another may not.

One patient may want doctors to extend her life despite pain, nausea, or loss of mobility to see her son graduate from college. Another may be unwilling to experience serious side effects from a treatment that isn’t 100 percent effective.

We want to honor the patient’s wishes. When patients can’t communicate and have no advance directive, we look to families for guidance.   

Q: What’s the best way to start the conversation?

A: I encourage families to talk to loved ones about end-of-life wishes and values before they get sick or develop a serious condition. You won’t go wrong trying to explore someone’s wishes and values.

When I asked my own mother what she wanted at the end of her life, I learned she wanted to be around her five children, to be able to communicate with us and to be independent. This led me to understand that if she became terminally ill and couldn’t recognize us, she wouldn’t want to live like that.

Some people wouldn’t mind being on a feeding tube or a ventilator, unaware of their environment. Others wouldn’t want to live in a vegetative state.

These questions are tough and emotionally difficult to ask mom or dad. Even I got stuck talking to my mom. But we can always ask for help. A spiritual care advisor or palliative care doctor at your hospital can facilitate these discussions.

(And remember to tell loved ones about your wishes and values, too.)

Q: Do larger issues get in the way of these discussions?

A: I think not talking about death is cultural. It’s how we see life, it’s our spiritual background, it’s our own fear of dying.

I’ve heard patients say, “I feel like I’m dying, but my kids don’t want to talk about it.” This isolates them at the end of life. Pain and isolation or abandonment are our main fears when we’re dying.

But the more we talk, the less fear we’ll have. Everybody’s going to die. Avoiding the topic won’t decrease the chances of dying. As a society, we need to normalize death. Being born, growing up, having kids, dying – these are all part of the life cycle.

Q: What questions should you ask about end-of-life care?

A: If you’re worried how an illness may impact the end of your life, talk to your family doctor, primary care doctor or specialist. Ask, “What are the side effects, risks and benefits of the treatment you’ve recommended?” Once you have that information, see how it lines up with your wishes and values.

If you want your doctor to keep trying to treat the disease, we can provide palliative care along with the treatment, controlling your symptoms and minimizing your pain. If you choose to end treatment, it doesn’t mean we’re giving up. We’ll still provide palliative care right up until the end.

Our goal in the ICU is always to get patients better and back to a functional life at home. But that’s not always possible. We can aim either to extend life or to offer the best quality of life in the time the patient has left.

These conversations and advance directives show us how to proceed and help us allow patients to die with dignity.

Q: Are there proven benefits to end-of-life planning?

A: Yes. Studies show that when advance care planning is done, the family’s experience and the patient’s experience are better. In the United States, autonomy is very important. Advance directives help you maintain your autonomy at the end of life.

Healthcare providers are encouraged to obtain advance directives and document patient’s wishes in their chart for all caregivers to see.

Q: Any final word for families?

A: I encourage families to see death as a natural act and to understand the value of a natural death. We can do many things to extend life, but sometimes the price we pay is having no quality of life.

Complete Article HERE!

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08/16/17

Many Avoid End-Of-Life Care Planning, Study Finds

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People with chronic illnesses were only slightly more likely than healthy individuals to put their wishes down on paper in a living will.

By Michelle Andrews 

Before being deployed overseas for the Iraq war in 2003, Army reservist Don Morrison filled out military forms that gave instructions about where to send his body and possessions if he were killed.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is mortality right in your face,'” Morrison, now 70, recalls.

After that, his attention was keenly focused on how things might end badly. Morrison asked his lawyer to draw up an advance directive to describe what medical care he wanted if he were unable to make his own decisions.

One document, typically called a living will, spells out Morrison’s preferences for life-sustaining medical treatment, such as ventilators and feeding tubes. The other, called a health care proxy or health care power of attorney, names a friend to make treatment decisions for him if he were to become incapacitated.

Not everyone is so motivated to tackle these issues. Even though advance directives have been promoted by health professionals for nearly 50 years, only about a third of U.S. adults have them, according to a recent study.

For the analysis, published in the July issue of Health Affairs, researchers reviewed 150 studies published between 2011 and 2016 that looked at the proportion of adults who completed advance directives. Of nearly 800,000 people, 37 percent completed some kind of advance directive. Of those, 29 percent completed living wills, 33 percent filed health care proxies and 32 percent remained “undefined,” meaning the type of advance directive wasn’t specified or was combined.

People older than age 65 were significantly more likely to complete any type of advance directive than younger ones — 46 percent of older people, versus 32 percent of those who were younger. But the difference between people who were healthy and those who were sick when they filled out the directive was much smaller — 33 percent compared with 38 percent.

To encourage more physicians to help people to plan for their care, the Medicare program began reimbursing them in January 2016 for counseling beneficiaries about advance-care planning.

This study doesn’t incorporate data from those changes. But it can serve as a benchmark to gauge improvement, says Dr. Katherine Courtright, an instructor of medicine in pulmonary and critical care at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the study’s senior author.

There are many reasons that people are reluctant to sign a living will. “Many people don’t sign advance directives because they worry they’re not going to get any care if they say they don’t want [cardiopulmonary resuscitation],” says Courtright. “It becomes this very scary document that says, ‘Let me die.’ ”

Living wills also don’t account for the fact that people’s wishes may change over time, says Dr. Diane Meier, a geriatrician and the director of the New York-based Center to Advance Palliative Care.

“In some ways, the public’s lack of excitement about this is related to the reality that it’s very hard to make decisions about the kind of care you want in the future when you don’t know what that will be like,” she says.

Sometimes as patients age and develop medical problems, they’re more willing to undergo treatments they might have rejected when they were younger and healthier, Meier says.

“People generally want to live as well as they can for as long as they can,” she says. If that means going on a ventilator for a few days in order to get over a bout of pneumonia, for example, many may want to do that.

But if their living will says they don’t want to be put on a ventilator, medical staff may feel bound to honor their wishes. Or not. Although living wills are legal documents, medical staff and family members or loved ones can reinterpret them.

“At the moment, I’m very healthy,” Morrison says. If he were to become ill or have a serious accident, he’d want to weigh life-saving interventions against the quality of life he could expect afterwards. “If it were an end-of-life scenario, I don’t want to resuscitated,” he says.

If someone’s wishes change, the documents can be changed. There’s no need to involve a lawyer in creating or revising advance directives, but they generally must be witnessed and may have to be notarized.

While living wills can be tricky, experts strongly recommend that people at least appoint a health care proxy. Some even suggest that naming someone for that role should be a routine task that’s part of applying for a driver’s license.

“Treatment directives of any kind all assume we can anticipate the future with accuracy,” says Meier. “I think that’s an illusion. What needs to happen is a recognition that decisions need to be made in real time and in context.”

That’s where the health care proxy can come in.

But to be effective, though, people need to have conversations with their proxy and other loved ones about their values and what matters to them at the end of life.

They may tell their health care proxy that they want to die at home, for example, or that being mobile or able to communicate with their family is very important, says Jon Radulovic, a vice president at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Some may opt to forgo painful interventions to extend their lives in favor of care that keeps them comfortable and maintains the best quality of life for the time that remains.

“The most important thing is to have the conversation with the people that you love around the kitchen table and to have it early,” says Ellen Goodman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who founded The Conversation Project, which provides tools to help people have conversations about end-of-life issues.

Morrison says he’s talked with his health care proxy about his wishes. The conversation wasn’t difficult. Rather than spell out precisely what he wants done under what circumstances, Morrison is leaving most of the decisions to his health care proxy if he can’t make his own choices.

Morrison says he’s glad he’s put his wishes down on paper. “I think that’s very important to have. It may not be a disease that I get, it may be a terrible accident. And that’s when [not knowing someone’s wishes] becomes a crisis.”

Complete Article HERE!

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08/12/17

Tidy transition can ease caring for dying parent

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By Glenn Ellis

There are two things that movies consistently get wrong: sex and death. Unfortunately, as a society, we spend far too much thinking of sex, and too little time devoted to death – especially of a parent.

Caring for a dying parent is a difficult and emotionally challenging task. However, effective communication can ease the transition.

Movies consistently present death in a false or unrealistic way. Real-life death is not always dignified, simple or tidy. Indeed, death can be upsetting, messy, painful and traumatic experience for all parties involved.

Complications can arise during the course of an illness can lead to increasingly worsening circumstances. Immobile or semi-mobile patients may feel determined to walk and my try to get out of bed. As a result, some may fracture or break their hip. As bad as terminal illness is, additional complications can make quality of life worse. Patients may become restricted to their bed and may rely on a catheter.

Regardless of the attempts to prevent it, as soon as they return home, complications such as a yeast infection or urinary tract infection may occur. This causes a patient to become even more frightened and restless. How is anyone supposed to take care of a dying person? It’s a fairly straightforward to concept “nurse” a person back into good health, but how is anyone supposed to “nurse” them into death with dignity and compassion?

Then there’s the morphine. Dying parents may often feel agitated and restless, so much so that they might try getting out of her bed. The morphine may help to calm them down. Is it unethical to give it to them to address mental rather than physical pain? Although her hip fracture causes pain. Many children give their parents morphine more for their parents restlessness.

The only organ donors you see on “Grey’s Anatomy” are car accident fatalities. No one ever talks about mulling over whether or not to give someone’s organs away while they’re still conscious in another room.

These are the kinds of issues that children with dying parents struggle with every day. Many adult-children caregivers believe that their ill parent wouldn’t have wanted to live this kind of existence. They may have stated that they didn’t want a lingering, drawn-out death. This is why advance directives are so essential.

If you’re like most families (including mine), generally, the care of a dying parent falls on the shoulders (and back) of one sibling or family member. Although it’s rare for siblings to share parent care equally, it’s a family responsibility. Not treating it as such “will haunt you” later on. Even if you live far away from your ailing parent, you can still help out.

From ordering car service a couple times a week to paying bills online, anything that can be done via telephone or internet is within your reach, she notes. Just calling your mom more often “so she’s not so needy” can provide relief to the sibling carrying the heaviest load, says Russo, as can making the trip to be with your mom whenever possible, so your sibling can take time off.

End-of-life care is something that few people like to think about, let alone discuss. Avoiding the subject until it’s unavoidable, however, can be a “huge mistake” with devastating consequences for the sibling relationship. Call a family meeting when your parents are still healthy.

Such a conversation might start this way: Remember aunt so-and-so, and how our cousins were still fighting when she was on the respirator and they wouldn’t let her die and how painful that was for everybody?

We don’t want that to happen in our family.

Mom, Dad, do you have a living will? Have you assigned somebody to be the healthcare proxy? Though they may attempt to deflect such questions: nudge further. If you were on a respirator or in really bad shape, would you want us to do everything possible, or would you just want to go quietly? Who should make that decision? We’ll all want to do what’s right, but we may have different feelings.

It’s time to start an honest and open discussion of what dying really means. How can we help someone we love to pass on? What do “extraordinary measures” mean to different people? To some, it may mean CPR. For others, it might mean giving any medications that can help. Furthermore, what constitutes a tolerable living standard? For instance, what happens when someone is bedridden or unable to control their bowels?

There are few things more difficult than saying goodbye to a dying parent. These questions are undoubtedly tough ones. In most cases, they’re mentioned far too late.

Complete Article HERE!

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08/5/17

A good death

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It would be foolish to think that we can control when our time is up. But neither should we face that moment unprepared. Not only for our sake, but for the people we leave behind.
 

By Vivien Shiao

THE only certainty in life is death. But this is not something we like to think about – not when we are at our prime, our careers powering ahead, and the future bright. In fact, as you flip through the papers, about to tuck into a nice brunch with loved ones, you may even question why we want to mention it at all, potentially casting a pall on a perfectly good weekend. The reality is, there are just as many ways to die as there are ways to live. It can come like a thief in the night, sudden and without warning. For others, death comes as an impending train – relentless and closing in. Or sometimes, long after the body and mind have withered, death still does not come. As the ultimate human experience we all cannot run away from, it matters how we approach death. How we live the rest of our days depends on it.

What a good death means

A good death is hard to define. In many instances, the process of dying is described as a battle to be won, a fight between life and death. Rage, rage against the dying of the light, wrote poet Dylan Thomas.

But doctors intimate with death tell The Business Times that this struggle to extend life without thought to its quality is not necessarily what people want.

Dr Ng Wai Chong, chief of clinical affairs, Tsao Foundation, is a physician who is well acquainted with death. To him, a good death is the ultimate challenge. “It is one with a good mind, one that is peaceful, one that has closure. All the big questions in life have been answered… To prepare for a good death, you need to live a life that is responsible and with a clear conscience.”

Those who are prepared are typically contented, accepting and also grateful, says Dr Ng. For Dr Neo Han Yee, a palliative care consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, a good death means a life of little regret or guilt, and being at peace knowing that loved ones will be taken care of. “It is difficult to achieve zero suffering, but on a spiritual aspect, these people feel that their lives have been worthwhile and they are ready to move on.”

A good death also has a social dimension, he explains: People with the “foresight” to invest their time and effort in relationships, in turn, receive support in their last days from family and loved ones. They are the ones with the wisdom to prepare early and help family members cope with their impending passing, he says.

Planning for the end

A good death doesn’t come by accident. It takes planning and preparation in many aspects – financial, legal, psychological, social, medical, and even spiritual – to make it happen. This is not just to ease one’s passage, but also to ease the burden on loved ones.

If the end-of-life process is a long drawn out one, the stakes are even higher. For example, if you become mentally incapacitated due to your illness and your children have no idea what your last wishes are, they could end up spending tens of thousands trying to treat you, in the hopes of extending life.

Not only could this increase your distress in your last days (though with no ill intention), the lack of clarity is likely to result in conflict among family members, and financial issues. Such a scenario may seem like the stuff of TV dramas, but it is a lot more common than you think, according to experts that BT spoke to. So, rather than wait for a crisis to strike, it may be prudent to plan ahead when things are hunky dory and you still have sound presence of mind. This could prevent unnecessary expenditure, heartache and headache for others further down the road.

Alfred Chia, CEO of financial advisory firm SingCapital, says that procrastination is one of the biggest mistakes that people tend to make regarding their finances. He is also the co-author of Last Wishes: Financial Planning, Will Planning and Funeral Planning in Singapore. “Planning for death should not be viewed as taboo or negative. In fact, it is a celebration of our life in this world,” Mr Chia says. He advises people to plan for retirement early to avoid “huge financial stress” later. Work out the amount needed each month for the ideal lifestyle post-retirement and the number of years you expect to provide for, he says. The right insurance policy can also help achieve your goals in a more cost-effective way, he adds.

Other mistakes he has observed others make is to fall prey to financial scams, and to invest in instruments that don’t suit their risk profile. He says: “There is a saying that when I pass on, I have not spent all my money. While that is a regret, it will be even more regretful if I have spent all my money, and yet am still alive with no capacity to earn an income.”

On the flipside of the coin, those who are extremely wealthy have even more compelling reasons to plan. To manage their wealth, they often turn to family offices – private wealth management advisory firms.

Mr Chia says that planning ahead for the wealthy can help keep family unity and prevent squabbles over inheritance. Family offices can also spread the distribution of wealth over an extended period so that the children won’t be “spoilt” with the sudden wealth, he adds.

Working with the law

When life ends, a host of issues crop up for loved ones, that can only be properly resolved within the confines of the law.

Most people know the significance of wills, but there are other considerations such as trusts and Lasting Power of Attorney, or the LPA.

A will is for the distribution of assets after one’s death, while an LPA is for the appointment of a person or persons (known as the donee) to make decisions for you on “health and wealth” before your death.

Doris Chia, litigation partner of David Lim & Partners, saysthat most people with elderly parents would want to do an LPA, so that they are able to access their parents’ bank accounts or assets to pay for their parents’ medical bills when their parents are unable to do so.

One thing to bear in mind is that the LPA only kicks in in the event of loss of mental capacity. So although you may do an LPA now, it may only be valid decades later, says Ms Chia. Or, it may never come into effect at all if the person who appointed the LPA remains mentally healthy.

Ms Chia also warns that the LPA comes under the Mental Capacity Act, which means it can only be made by a person of sound mind. Once there is an onset of a mental issue such as Alzheimer’s or senile dementia, it will be too late to make one.

The consequences can be serious. She cites an example where the mother of one client became mentally incapacitated and then fell ill, and the client was unable to sell a private property that she owned jointly with her mother.

Without an LPA, she had to apply to the court for deputyship to sell the property, to fund her mother’s medical needs. This process cost “tens of thousands of dollars”, according to Ms Chia.

“A person applying to be a deputy has to file several affidavits in court. This also costs money. You can save all this heartache now by doing an LPA. What’s the harm?”

According to the Office of the Public Guardian, the fee for LPA certificate issuers ranges from S$25 for a general practitioner to S$500 for a psychiatrist – still much more affordable than applying for deputyship.

Another group of people that Ms Chia urged to apply for LPAs are singles, and people who identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender).

“For LGBT people, it is essential to do an LPA as it allows the partner – and not family members, if that is your choice – to make decisions on your personal welfare and property and affairs. Otherwise, legally, your partner has no say over such matters in such circumstances.”

Where there’s a will

Aside from the LPA, the will is another matter to be considered seriously. For non-Muslims who die without making a will, distribution of assets will be according to the Intestate Succession Act. For example, the surviving spouse will get 50 per cent of assets, with the rest divided among their children. For singles, the assets will go to their living parents. Otherwise, it will go to their siblings.

Muslims follow the Muslim intestacy law, the faraid. Only one-third of their assets can be willed away, with the rest distributed according to the faraid.

For those who don’t want to follow the standard distribution rules, making a will is vital. Some people, Ms Chia has observed, don’t trust their spouses too much and prefer to give everything to their children.

The existence of a will gives much quicker access to assets. For people who die with a will in place, a Grant of Probate allows the process to move much faster compared to the Letter of Administration for those who die without a will, says Ms Chia.

Even so, the existence of a will is no guarantee that it will be carried out. It may be hidden, or lost, or challenged. It’s important that the executors of the will – those who will administer and distribute your estate upon death – know where the will is, together with proper instructions on bank accounts, assets and insurance policies.

Details make all the difference. “I always say to my clients, do a will that can last many years,” says Ms Chia. “Don’t say Property A goes to one son, and Property B goes to another son. If you sell Property B and you forget to amend your will, one son will end up with nothing.”

Instead, she recommends that the executor be instructed to sell all assets and for the proceeds to be distributed according to percentages.

State of mind and health also matter. It’s better to make a will when you are healthy and of sound mind so that there will be no dispute later, Ms Chia advises. She observes that most people do not think about end-of-life decisions until they are forced upon them. But wills are sometimes contested if the person had made it when they were very old or very sick.

Giving the assets in a trust, as opposed to in a will, prevents challenges by family members, says Ms Chia. Often used for succession planning, a trust protects family assets for the good of beneficiaries who are either too young, financially immature or vulnerable until they either come of age or reach a certain maturity.

The assets put into a trust are a gift made in a person’s lifetime, and not upon his death. Once the assets vest in the trust, they no longer belong to him. The assets will not form part of his assets at the point of his death and hence, a trust cannot be contested, explains Ms Chia.

Having a trust could also mitigate the heavy taxes applicable to estate duty in certain overseas jurisdictions, or safeguard assets from the possibility of lawsuits by creditors.

One particular group that can benefit are family members with special needs, she adds. Setting up a trust with that particular person as the beneficiary is a way to plan for a day when one can no longer care for him or her in person, says Ms Chia.

A conversation about care

Perhaps, due to cultural mores, or perhaps the need to “protect” their parents, some children refuse to even talk about death with their elderly parents, even as it is looming.

Sometimes, the severity of their condition – or even the amount of time they have left – is deliberately kept from them by well-meaning family members, thinking that mentioning it will result in emotional instability.

TTSH’s Dr Neo observes: “Quite often, when a person is so sick, family members are pushed into a corner. They don’t know how to broach the topic.”

But doctors and healthcare professionals are actively trying to change this mindset with the introduction of the Advanced Care Plan (ACP). It is a voluntary discussion on future care preferences between an individual, his or her family and healthcare providers.

While not legally binding, it describes the type of care the person would prefer, if he or she is to become very sick and unable to make healthcare decisions in the future. Compared to the Advanced Medical Directive (AMD) which has a very narrow scope of criteria, the beauty of the ACP is in the conversation, says Dr Ng from the Tsao Foundation.

“The goal is to respect a person’s rights to self-determination. It encourages people to think about existential issues and helps the people conducting it to get into the value system of the person. Scenarios might change, but the general drift is there, so it will bring some clarity.”

Otherwise, caregivers who don’t know what patients want will end up going on the “path of least resistance”, which often means over-investigation of treatment, says Dr Ng.

An AMD allows you to register in advance your wishes not to have any extraordinary life-sustaining treatment to prolong life in the event that you become terminally ill and unconscious and where death is imminent. However, the definition of a “terminal illness” is extremely specific.

Among the wealthier and more educated patients or caregivers, Dr Ng has also observed a sub-group of people who approach medical conditions with a consumer attitude. Instead, he advocates having a doctor as a lohealth partner that you can trust, with a relationship built over a long time.

“I see people over-treat, over-investigate, but a primary care doctor is a better way of managing health. The person can help you clarify your purpose, your goals and the best strategy to proceed. Along the way, he can even do your ACP with you and be a facilitator when it comes to complex family dynamics.”

Beginning with the end

It is not just the medical aspect of health that people should take into account in their last days. There’s also the need to think about the social, emotional and psychological state of the person.

TTSH’s Dr Neo explains that the intensity of pain is often heavily coloured by one’s emotions. To cope with the end of life, people must build up psychological preparedness and fortitude, he says.

To him, thinking about death is constructive for thinking of life.

He observes: “Life is impermanent. You treasure people around you a lot more, you don’t waste time on things not worth it. You invest your time and effort in things worthwhile. You know how to value relationships much more, so when the time comes, you will be wiser as you have thought about it for a longer period of time.”

To build psychological maturity, he advises people to find a higher meaning in life, or a certain “calling”. Singaporeans tend to forget this, he notes, as we trudge along in our work and family life. Happiness is always projected in the future, instead of finding meaning in one’s current existence.

At the crux of it, people are too busy trying to beat each other or accrue financial gain to think about their own vulnerability, says Dr Neo.

“We live in a very illusory world. Only when a crisis hits then will the person be shaken and realise that life is fragile. If we don’t make mental, emotional and financial preparations before, you will find it hard to cope with the situation. We often underestimate how much we can prepare for death.”

No one can predict how much time we have left on this Earth. But if we put in as much thought about how we want to die as much as we think about how we want to live, surely our days here – limited though they may be – will be all the more precious and meaningful.


What you need to know

Will

  • Make sure your executors can find it. Ms Chia from David Lim & Partners cites an incident when a client made a will and was so secretive about it that his family couldn’t find it after his death. Be aware also that:
  • The will is sometimes contested if it was made at a time when the person was very old or ill.
  • CPF nominations and insurance policies with a named beneficiary are not part of the will.
  • Property – private or HDB – held in joint tenancy will automatically go to the survivor and hence cannot be part of the will for distribution.

Lasting Power of Attorney

  • Can only be used when the person who makes it (the donor) loses mental capacity and is only valid when the donor signs it when he is of sound mind.
  • One fear that people have about LPAs is that their children or donees can “help themselves” to the donor’s money when he or she is mentally incapacitated. Ms Chia debunks this: The money can only be used for the person’s welfare and medical expenses, and they will need to submit accounts to the Office of the Public Guardian, which serves to safeguard the interests of individuals who lack mental capacity and are vulnerable. In addition, more than one donee can be appointed to guard against dishonesty.

Trust

  • Anyone can set up a trust, says Ms Chia, but the costs are higher compared to arranging a will, or even setting up a private interest foundation, an entity which has the characteristics of both a company and a trust. “If the trust requires professional trust managers to make investment decisions or payments over several generations, this will cost money to administer. One needs to weigh the asset value against the cost of administering the trust,” she says.

Advance Medical Directive

  • Legally binding, but very narrow definition of “terminal illness”.
  • The AMD registry is only accessible during office hours. A doctor facing an emergency situation in the night will be unable to retrieve and verify an AMD. In fact, the AMD Act Section 15 has also been frequently interpreted as an offence for a doctor to query his patient about his AMD, according to Dr Neo of TTSH.

Advance Care Plan

  • Puts everyone on the same page, as it describes the type of care you would prefer, if you become unable to make healthcare decisions in the future. U For people with an ACP, the palliative care is much smoother for everyone involved as they don’t feel burdened with tough decisions, says Dr Ng of Tsao Foundation.
  • Not legally binding, and can be changed and reviewed, preferably with your primary care doctor or the main doctor tending to your advanced illness.

Complete Article HERE!

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