No one wants to die in pain, tethered to machines and unable to communicate, in a futile attempt to prolong life. That's how many older Americans die. But it doesn't have to be that way.
What is a "good death"
If we could have our wish, most of us would want to die on our own terms, relatively free from pain, in a supported and dignified setting, and able to communicate with loved ones. To retain this level of control, we must plan well in advance.
Step 1: Make a living will
Living wills are advance directives that detail the treatments we want and don't want when it is a question of life or death. They also assign health care agents or proxies to speak for us if we cannot speak for ourselves. A living will is very important if you wish to keep control of critical end-of-life decisions.
Step 2: Make the living will a part of your health record
Make sure you discuss your living will with your doctor or nurse practitioner and have them make it a part of your permanent health care record. Otherwise, your living will is just a piece of paper which may not be honored when decision time arrives.
In case of a life-threatening illness, stay informed about your prognosis
You can't plan for a future you know nothing about. Make sure your doctors let you know if and when further aggressive medical treatment cannot improve your condition. You may choose to take these treatments anyway, but the choice should be yours, not the doctor's. To make an informed choice, see to it that the doctor tells you (or your health care proxy) what the likely outcome of any proposed treatment will be, and how much suffering may be involved.
Hospice care: Controlling pain and discomfort
More and more aging patients are choosing to have comfort or palliative care through hospice services during their final days. Hospice care is for a person whose mindset has switched from searching for a cure that will restore health to a desire for comfort, dignity, pain relief and managed privacy at the end of life.