Planning For Serious Illness. Advocating For Loved Ones.

We plan for so many things in life: childbirth, school, weddings, retirement – even vacations! Yet studies show that people shy away from planning for serious illness.

When serious illness strikes, life can change in an instant. Families who have had conversations about serious illness with their loved ones, and have organized important documents and health information, find that a few easy steps can be a tremendous help. Use the following as a check list.

When possible, plan ahead of the crisis.

One of the most important things you can do as a family is talk. Issues to talk about might include specific scenarios, but might also cover other topics such as:

  • How serious is it? What is the likelihood of recovery?
  • Who should make health decisions for me, if I can’t make them myself?
  • Do I need an advance directive?
  • Are there treatments I might hesitate to go through if there was little or no benefit?
  • What does “life support” really mean? When is it beneficial and when isn’t it?

Some of these issues may require information and discussions with health providers, clergy and other sources of support.

Gather important documents and organize health information.

Important documents might include:

  • Advance Directives, which includes 1) Living will outlining preferences for medical care usually in a terminal condition and 2) Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care identifying the person(s) you choose to make health decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself.
  • Insurance information (including primary and supplementary insurance, disability, long-term care, veteran benefits).
  • Military service information.
  • Information on where to find financial accounts, life insurance policies, social security number, will, titles, deeds and other important documents.
  • Important health information to carry with you at all times including 1) Illnesses and surgeries (past and present), 2) Medications (name of drug, dose and how often it is taken) and 3) Names of health providers (and contact information).

Meeting with your healthcare providers. Don’t go alone!

Having conversations and organizing health and finance information will help give you a head start when meeting with your doctor or your other healthcare providers.

  • ALWAYS bring someone else to a medical appointment! Stress and concern over a diagnosis or condition can often interfere with our ability to take in too much information. Having more than one person present – to listen, take notes and ask questions can be invaluable.
  • Be sure to write out questions before meeting with the health care team and take time to be sure the questions have been answered.
  • Social workers, geriatric care managers, navigators and others are great sources of information and may offer insight into how to plan for, or meet, the challenges of serious illness.

Request early access to a palliative care team.

Consider involving palliative care should serious illness strike. Anyone dealing with serious illness is eligible for palliative care. Palliative care teams add an extra layer of support at any stage of a serious illness and can help with symptom relief, gathering needed information from all specialists involved and planning for ongoing care.