Why You Should Make an Advance Care Plan Today

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For families impacted by dementia, creating an advance care plan is one of the most important things you can do now for when the later stages of dementia occur.

“Dementia [can] cause a series of losses to the individual but also their family, and one of the ways that people can have some control over this really difficult series of events is to take part in advance care planning,” says Dr. Jessica Simon, physician consultant to Advance Care Planning: Goals of Care, Calgary Zone, Alberta Health Services.

Simon is also division head of palliative medicine for the University of Calgary. She has seen first-hand, in her years of experience as a palliative care physician, the distress families are put through when their loved one can no longer make important medical decisions. She says having an advance care plan is critical in this situation.

“If they have to make medical decisions on your behalf, they will feel less distressed and more comfortable because they know they are honouring what’s important to you,” she says.

Developing an advance care plan involves five important elements: think, learn, choose, communicate and document.

1 | Think

First, think about your wishes and values. For example, do you want health care providers to do everything they can to prolong your life? Or is quality of life more important to you than length?

2 | Learn

Next, learn about your medical condition and the common choices a loved one may have to make on your behalf related to this condition. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, you’ll want to consider creating an advance care plan as soon as possible.

3 | Choose

For the third step, choose an agent, a person who can make medical decisions on your behalf (only if you are no longer able to).

4 | Communicate

Next, communicate this decision. Getting everyone on board and aware of your choice, including family, friends and your health care team, is key to garnering the best outcomes.

5 | Document

Finally, document your plan and agent in a personal directive (PD) document. This document names your agent and allows you to leave written instructions they can follow when you are no longer able to make key medical decisions.

A complete advance care plan also includes two legal documents: a power of attorney, which designates who can make financial decisions on your behalf, and a will, which tells your family what to do with your estate when you’ve died.

There is no time like the present to create your advance care plan, and everyone over the age of 18 should make it a priority, says Simon.

“It really is a gift to those around you in a very distressing time.”

April 16th is National Advance Care Planning Day in Canada. Visit goals.conversationsmatter.ca to learn more.


The Green Sleeve Program

The Green Sleeve program is specific to Alberta Health Services. It is like a medical passport that holds your advance care planning forms: your personal directive (outlined in main article), goals of care designation (a medical order written by your doctor or nurse practitioner that helps the health care team quickly know your desires and values in an emergency), and your tracking record of previous advance care planning discussions.

Any AHS medical provider can give you a Green Sleeve, or you can have up to four mailed to you by visiting myhealth.alberta.ca/Alberta/Pages/advance-care-planning-green-sleeve.aspx.

An up-to-date Green Sleeve should be kept near the fridge at home, as first responders are trained to look for it there. You should also share copies with your agent, family and health care provider. [ ]