We often think of our lives in terms of growth, accomplishments, experiences—abundant living in the fullest sense of the word. We do not think of life as the prelude to death and dying. Yet, coming to that realization can add comfort and security to the planning and decision-making processes that make for the proverbial “good death.” Leonardo Da Vinci described the journey of life as: “While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.”
Careful Planning Can Increase Meaning
Many Americans have little experience with someone who is dying. When the time comes, unless death is unexpected and quick, there are choices to be made. These choices have more meaning and clarity if they are based on careful planning and discussion with one’s family and health care team about end of life.
Advanced care planning, end-of-life care and how America is going to address the treatment of chronic terminal illnesses are increasingly becoming hot topics, not only for the health care community but for all of us. As America continues to age, more people are living longer with complex medical needs and conditions.
Best Practices Emerging
Major health systems are working hard to determine best practices around end-of-life care, both to increase patient satisfaction and to contribute to public policy around issues of death and dying. The Coalition for Transforming Advanced Illness Care (C-TAC) is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan alliance of patient and consumer advocacy groups, health care professionals and providers and other stakeholders. The alliance members share the vision that:
“…all Americans with advanced illness, especially the sickest and most vulnerable, will receive comprehensive, high-quality, person and family-centered care that is consistent with their goals and values and honors their dignity.”
Allina Health is currently in the pilot phase of a project called LifeCourse. According to Allina, “the goal of LifeCourse is to support study participants by exploring and providing resources to help those with serious illness to live as they wish. The LifeCourse team walks beside individuals and families during their journey, working together with the entire health care team.” The success of these strategies depends upon participants’ following through on tough discussions, understanding their choices and making their end-of-life care preferences known before a crisis situation.
The Vital Aging Network plays a key role in providing the public spaces, initiatives and formats to have these discussions, and in developing strategies for an active aging model that supports public engagement for both living and dying well.