Expressing your end-of-life wishes involves legal, pragmatic and emotional choices, but it is a topic that shouldn’t be avoided. While 82 per cent of Australians think it is important to speak to their family about how they would want to be cared for later in life, only 28 per cent have done so. So what’s holding us back?

A recent article in The Conversation discussed why many people try to avoid talking about death – one of the key reasons being that we fear it.

Clinical psychologist James Kirby writes that this anxiety can be categorised into four areas: ‘loss of self or someone else; loss of control; fear of the unknown – what will happen after death (nothingness, heaven, hell); and pain and suffering of dying’.

We hope for longevity, but dying at an older age comes with the realisation that our minds and bodies will be more vulnerable to sickness and possibly a serious disease or condition. With this in mind, Federal Minister for Aged Care Ken Wyatt says that palliative care for older Australians is becoming more important than ever.

“When we require palliative care this should become the centre of comfort and passion towards people, their families and the wider community,” says Minister Wyatt.

Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life of patients with chronic and generally incurable illnesses and, with the growth and ageing of Australia's population, the number of people requiring palliative care has increased. In 2014–15, there were about 65,000 palliative care-related hospitalisations reported from public and private hospitals in Australia (a 19 per cent increase from 2010–11), and just over half of these were people aged 75 and over.

For those approaching the end of their life – or their adult children – there are decisions to be made about planning support for life and death in different care settings.

Here are some helpful resources on where to start.
This newly launched online resource offers support and up-to-date information for people and their families, health professionals and aged care staff on palliative care. Head over to the ‘For the Community’ tab to find practical material including information on the models of care, guides on symptoms and treatment decisions as well as planning tools to allow you to better discuss the options available.

Advance Care Planning Australia 
ACPA have an extensive library of resources, such as forms and information kits for support in the decision-making process in advanced care planning. The organisation also has a national advisory service hotline where you can speak with a Specialist Advance Care Planning staff.

End of Life Law in Australia 
A bit confused about the legalities relating to death, dying and decision-making at the end of life? This website gives a simple overview on the laws that address questions such as 'Can a dying patient or their family refuse or demand medical treatment needed to keep the patient alive?' or 'What happens if family members disagree with a person’s decision to donate their organs when they die?'. It is a useful resource to learn about your legal rights and responsibilities.

Other helpful links include:

Begin the conversation with your loved ones and care providers, reflect on what’s important to you (or your parents) and document these wishes in an advanced care plan – ensuring that a will and enduring power of attorney are in order.

Have you approached your loved ones about end-of-life care? Share your experiences below.

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