The gift of listening is more precious than goods
AS Christmas approaches, family members are often at a loss about what gift to give their mother or father.
Often as people get older they no longer want material things but would prefer something more meaningful.
The Christmas holiday season is often the only time of the year when families are all together.
One important gift a family can give to their older relative is to set aside a time for the person they love to talk to family members about their health care wishes and concerns in case the time comes when they can no longer make their own decisions.
This is called Advance Care Planning.
Older people often report that they want to talk about Advance Care Planning but younger family members don't want to, or say that it is morbid; it is not.
Advance Care Planning can not only give an older person peace of mind but can also provide comfort and reassurance to family members at a time of crisis, and prevent arguments at such a stressful time.
Advance Care Planning allows the person to write down their wishes and values for their end-of-life care in an Advance Care Directive and appoint an Enduring Guardian to make sure those wishes are respected.
The Advance Care Directive and the Enduring Guardian appointment only come into effect when the person making them loses decision- making capacity. While this may never happen, Advance Care Planning is like an insurance policy - you hope you don't need it but it's good to know that it's in place if you ever do.
Two important points to remember:
If a person has an Advance Care Directive and it applies to the current situation, it is legally binding (in NSW it is legally binding under Common Law) and cannot be ignored or overturned by doctors, nurses, the Enduring Guardian or anyone else.
For decisions not covered by the Advance Care Directive, an Enduring Guardian has the same authority the person themselves would have if they were able to speak for themselves. (A person holding Enduring Power of Attorney cannot make health care decisions for the person who appointed them. Enduring Power of Attorney in NSW applies only to property and money).
- Professor Colleen Cartwright is Emeritus Processor of Ageing, Southern Cross University; principal director, Cartwright Consulting Australia Pty Ltd.