Americans are taking end-of-life planning more seriously, according to a recent University of Michigan Medical School study that found nearly three-quarters of elderly adults have already created a living will—a written document meant to guide family members and medical practitioners on a person’s healthcare preferences, should they become incapacitated.
The prevailing theory among experts is that seniors with living wills would rather receive hospice care—which focuses on managing physical and emotional pain in the terminally ill, rather than delivering medical treatment—during their final months of life, as opposed to being hospitalized. But, despite the double-digit percentage increase in the number of elders formally outlining their end-of-life plans, study authors were surprised to find that no corresponding decrease in hospitalizations occurred. Rather, the rate of seniors being hospitalized during their final months of life has increased over the years.
While it may not have cut down on hospitalizations, the jump in the number of aging individuals making living wills indicates that people are becoming more comfortable with talking to their loved ones about end-of-life issues. “It’s become part of the routine check list in getting affairs in order, especially for older adults,” says lead study author and palliative care specialist, Maria Silveira, M.D., in a press release.
Options for coping with end-of-life issues
No matter how solid a senior’s end-of-life plan is, dealing with the impending death of a loved one is a challenging proposition. However, there are resources that can help provide guidance for those dreading an end-of-life journey with a loved one:
- Death Cafés, which began in Europe and are currently gaining traction in the U.S., are gatherings of people interested in discussing a range of issues relating to death and dying. Different from a bereavement group, a Death Café meeting focuses more on discussing the idea of death, and is thus more suitable for caregivers whose loved ones are not terminally ill or recently deceased.
- Hospice care providers offer spiritual and psychological services to assist patients and their families in coming to terms with death.
- Close friends and family members are vital sources of support when trying to come to terms with an impending loss. Knowing what to say to someone who is dying can be difficult for some, but even just the physical presence of a friend can have a much-needed comforting effect on caregivers and their elderly loved ones.
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