Talking About Hospice With Your Family

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Ideally, your family members will know ahead of time your wishes and preferences for end-of-life care you are ever diagnosed with a life-limiting illness or are unable to speak for yourself. And ideally, you would know their wishes and preferences, too.

By some estimates, about 30 percent of Americans have completed an advance directive, a written plan that spells out the types of care you want—and do not want—at the end of life.

But creating an advance directive requires talking about it, a necessary conversation that is never easy. The topic can be easier to approach by starting a family conversation with “What if…?” scenarios and questions.

  • What if you experience a stroke and cannot speak?
  • What if a serious accident or fall leaves you in a coma? Do you want life-sustaining support from mechanical ventilators or feeding tubes?
  • What if you are diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that no longer responds to treatment?
  • If you are faced with a life-limiting diagnosis, who will speak for you, who will decide for you and what will they decide, based on your values and wishes?

The resulting discussions can reassure family members and designated caregivers that important issues have been discussed and that everyone can make informed decisions when the time comes.

Conversations and decisions about treatment options and interventions, do-not-resuscitate orders, burial plans, funeral/memorial services and other topics can continue and change over time, but putting them in writing now provides immediate guidance and avoids crises later.

Timing is Important

In reality, many conversations about end-of-life care occur when a patient is too sick or too sedated to participate. Decisions of such magnitude might fall to family members, caregivers and medical teams, sometimes under stress and often fraught with emotions, disagreements and confusion.

A man and wife talk over coffee and bagels at the kitchen table

Shifting the focus from personal opinions and beliefs to a loved one’s best interests, in alliance with his or her life values, may help realign priorities and provide peace of mind for all.

Our free hospice discussion guide can help you find answers and make the right decisions for you and your loved ones.

To help you start the conversation, VITAS offers a free, downloadable hospice discussion guide. It’s filled with questions, conversation topics and issues that will help you and your family know what to expect in the face of a life-limiting illness.

Whether you are thinking proactively or faced with decisions today, use “Considering Hospice Care” as a conversation starter to find solutions for you and the people you care about most.

Get the Family Discussion Guide in Spanish or Chinese.