Why is Advance Care Planning important?
Advance Care Planning (ACP) helps people to make their wishes known upfront about any future medical treatment and care, should they become unable to voice their needs at that point.
It’s especially important for people with a dementia diagnosis and ideally, ACPs should be carried out as soon as possible after a diagnosis has been given. By sharing a concerted plan for their welfare with loved ones and health professionals, a person with a dementia diagnosis will be safe in the knowledge that in the later stages of the disease, when they may be deemed as not having the same decision-making capacities, their care will still be guided by their originally-stated values and wishes.
It’s also important for loved ones and health care professionals to be across an individual’s preferences and beliefs, as it helps to reduce worry and stress when it comes to administering treatment in times of crisis.
Verbal Advance Care Plans
ACP can be as simple as having an open and honest conversation with loved ones and health care professionals.
A person with a dementia diagnosis should be aware of the challenges that they may face as their disease progresses, and the various choices they’ll have in terms of their care and treatment. They’ll need to understand which of these best align with their values and wishes and then communicate this to the people in their life who need to know.
Some people choose to appoint a substitute decision-maker (SDM) to speak for them in the future, if they’re not able to do so themselves. If an individual decides to explore this option, they’ll need to ask their nominated SDM if it’s something they’re comfortable with doing and ensure they fully understand their healthcare preferences. They can also go down the track of legally appointing them as their guardian.
Written Advance Care Plans
Whilst a verbal Advance Care Plan is a perfectly acceptable way for a person to influence their future healthcare, a written Advance Care Plan is the most accurate way to communicate their needs and impact their treatment.
A written Advance Care Plan is especially useful for doctors and nurses who may be treating an individual at a later stage, but who aren’t part of their initial health care team. It also serves as a comfort to loved ones, acting on a person’s wishes, knowing that their decisions are being respected and carried out exactly how they wanted.
As dementia’s a progressive disease over an extended period of time, an Advance Care Plan should reflect this, taking account of various issues that can occur as time passes.
People should make copies of their written Advance Care Plan and ensure that their principal doctor, residential care facility (if relevant), loved ones and their SDM all have copies.
Reviewing your Advance Care Plan
It’s crucial to review an Advance Care Plan annually, as well as if there’s any changes to a person’s wellbeing, personal life or living arrangements.
By having an up-to-date and well-considered Advance Care Plan, people can ensure that no matter what happens in the later stages of dementia, their wishes, beliefs and values will be held paramount – ensuring their care is administered exactly how they want it to be, without any unwanted interventions.
If you’d like support or further information, please take a look at our Dementia – Planning ahead fact sheet or call our 24-hour Advice Line on 1800 639 331.
Further information about Advance Care Planning is available on the Queensland Government site.
Words: Ash Anand