Having conversations with your loved ones about end-of-life care is essential for ensuring that their preferences and wishes are respected. Although these discussions may be difficult and emotional, by having open and honest communication with each other, helps ensure that you understand what is important to each other and can help you to organise the best possible care, when it matters most.

This article is here to help guide you through approaching conversations about end-of-life care with compassion, and explains the importance of creating an end-of-life care plan.

1. Establish trust and respect

Building trust and respect is fundamental when discussing end-of-life care. As such, it’s important to approach the end-of-life conversation with empathy, acknowledging the emotions and concerns of your loved one.

Create a safe space where they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and fears, and be patient and attentive, giving them the time they need to express themselves fully. Showing them that you have total respect for their independence and individual values lays the foundation for a meaningful conversation.

2. Understand Australian legal and healthcare frameworks

Before initiating discussions about end-of-life care, familiarise yourself with the legal and healthcare frameworks in Australia.

This knowledge will help you guide your loved one through the available options and ensure their wishes align with legal requirements.

Key aspects to consider include:

  • advance care planning
  • securing a Power of Attorney (POA) or an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPOA)
  • creating an Advance Health Directive (AHD) which outlines any future medical treatment someone would like should they no long have the capacity to manage their own decisions. In Queensland, this may be known as a Statement of Choices.

Websites such as Advance Care Planning Australia provides useful information about these process which can help you and your loved one make informed decisions.

3. Start advance care planning

It is important to consider advance care planning when considering end-of-life plans as this helps document what health care and medical treatment are preferred and nominates a substitute decision maker for the future if someone is unable to make these decisions for themselves.

Encourage your relative to complete an Advance Care Directive (ACD), a legal document that outlines their preferences for medical treatment and care in the event they no longer have the capacity to communicate their preferences. This may include reference to life-sustaining measures such as tube feeding or resuscitation to prolong life etc. It is essential that everyone involved understands the importance of an ACD and offers support to complete the document if this is something that your loved one would like help with.

This process allows your loved one to express their desires and empowers them to actively participate in their care decisions.

4. Engage in shared decision-making

End-of-life care conversations should be a collaborative process, centred around the person going through this and involving family members, friends and potentially healthcare professionals (if appropriate).

Encourage your loved one to discuss their concerns, preferences, and treatment options with their GP, who is able to provide referrals to the necessary team of medical, nursing and allied health professionals required to help support their current health needs and future health wishes.

This collaborative approach promotes shared decision-making and ensures that all stakeholders are aware of your loved one’s wishes.

5. Consider community support services

Australia offers a range of community support services to assist individuals in their end-of-life journey. Research local palliative care services, hospices, and home care providers such as Home Instead to understand the options that may be available in your local area.

Once you have the information you need, you can then share this information with your loved one, highlighting the benefits of each service. Encourage them to consider their living arrangements and explore the possibility of receiving care in a setting that aligns with their needs and preferences.

Don’t forget to consider any cultural and spiritual beliefs as part of this planning process too as it may affect funeral or death rites and it is important to honour cultural heritage or family traditions as part of this.

Approaching conversations about end-of-life care with older relatives requires sensitivity, respect, and an understanding of the legal and healthcare frameworks in place.

By fostering trust, actively listening, and considering cultural and spiritual beliefs, you can facilitate discussions that honour your relative’s autonomy and wishes. Engaging in shared decision-making, utilising advance care planning, and exploring available community services can ensure the provision of compassionate care aligned with their preferences.