‘Leaving it to chance’: Most older Aussies don’t have an end-of-life plan

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The study was carried out by Advance Care Planning Australia. Source: Getty.

A new report has revealed that an overwhelming majority of senior Australians do not have an end-of-life plan in place, meaning they could be leaving huge decisions to chance should they be unable to make their own medical decisions.

Advance Care Planning Australia carried out the study, published in the BMJ Open journal, which found that 70 per cent of older Australians have not yet created an Advance Care Directive or laid out instructions for their loved ones, should the worst happen.

From ‘do not resuscitate’ orders to treatment which can prolong life, and funeral plans to the location you wish to have your ashes scattered, there are a myriad of decisions that you can have a say in to make sure that your life comes to an end on your terms.

Looking at anonymous health records from a total of 51 hospitals, aged care facilities and GP clinics across the country, the study found that just three in ten people had thought ahead when it comes to end of life decisions, such as appointing someone to make decisions on their behalf or laying out their wishes for care and treatment.

“With Australia’s ageing population, it’s concerning that most older Australians are leaving it to chance and not taking active control of their future health care,” said Dr Karen Detering, Medical Director of Advance Care Planning Australia.

“Without a plan, older people may be left vulnerable and potentially without a voice. And far too often loved ones are left to blindly make decisions under the worst circumstances. As a medical practitioner I’ve witnessed these scenarios and I can tell you it’s a heart-breaking way to say goodbye to your loved ones.”

Despite these findings, Starts at 60 readers seem to be bucking the trend as last month we asked members of the community to participate in a poll to find out what proportion of readers have sat down with their nearest and dearest to go over their desires for what happens when they die.

One hundred people responded to the question: “Have you sat down and spoken to your loved ones about your end of life choices?” and selected one of the following four options; ‘Yes, my family are clear about what I want’; ‘Yes, but it did not go to plan’; ‘No, I don’t want to burden them’; ‘No, I don’t know how to bring it up’.

An overwhelming majority said they’d already had a conversation with their partner, family or friends about what they want, with 93 per cent of respondents confessing to having discussed their wishes for health care, resuscitation orders, funeral plans and more.

Of those who had discussed the topic, 96 per cent said their relatives were clear about their wishes, while just four per cent said they’d had the discussion but it had not gone to plan.

Jan Hall said: “My late husband and I did ours and I’m glad we did, as he passed away within a fortnight and we didn’t see that coming. I have even listed my songs and paid for my funeral outright, as well as putting together some photos for the audio set up as you never know what’s around that corner.”

However some readers hadn’t had as much luck, with seven per cent answering ‘no’ to the question.

Of those who have not discussed end of life choices with their families, the majority (86 per cent) admitted to avoiding the topic as they do not wish to be a burden to their loved ones. While 14 per cent confessed to feeling unsure about how to bring up the topic to kickstart the conversation.

Reader Joan Rowe told us that she has tried to bring up the topic with her sons, but “they won’t talk about it”. She said: “The boys won’t talk about it. I think every time I am in hospital they get scared. Once they know I am coming home, they relax and start behaving like boys again.”

What are your thoughts on this story? Have you discussed end of life choices with your family?

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