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Are You Thinking About End-of-Life Care? You Should Be.

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Most working Americans are aware of the benefits of saving money with a 401k or IRA so that they are prepared for retirement. They might not have the greatest understanding about how to invest the money in those funds, but they know that they really can't consider retiring without one.

A Living Will, on the other hand, is something that most Americans aren't dealing with according to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Researchers analyzed data from almost 8,000 people who participated in nationwide surveys in 2009 and 2010. The results? Only 26 percent of them had put a living will, or advance directive, together.

The most interesting piece of information that the researchers were able to pull from this study was that awareness about the importance of putting a living will together is directly related to race, education and socioeconomic status. Dr. Jaya Rao, lead researcher for this University of North Carolina study, said:

For [African-American] and Hispanic respondents, advance directives were less frequent across all educational groups. These data indicate racial and educational disparities in advance directive completion and highlight the need for education about their role in facilitating [end-of-life] decisions.

Advance directives detail your preferences for end-of-life care, such as who will serve as your power of attorney if you cannot make your own medical decisions, if you'd like to be tube-fed or whether you would like to implement a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. Having these written instructions helps reduce confusion for doctors and medical professionals and also can prevent arguments among family members.

The Mayo Clinic does a great job of helping break down everything you should consider when putting together a living will:

  • Resuscitation. In the case of cardiac death, choosing to be resuscitated would mean that the heart would be restarted once it had stopped beating. If you choose to be resuscitated, you can determine if and when you would want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or by a device that delivers an electric shock to stimulate the heart.
  • Mechanical ventilation. Mechanical ventilation means that you would have machines breathing for you if you're unable to do so. You'd have to consider the various scenarios in which this would be the necessary treatment and determine how long you would want to be kept on a ventilator.
  • Nutritional and hydration assistance. Are you comfortable with receiving fluids intravenously or would you prefer to receive them through a tube in the stomach?
  • Dialysis. Dialysis serves as a waste removal system for your body once your kidneys have failed.
  • Organ Donation. You can also specify your interest in organ donation -- organs, eyes and tissues for transplantation or your body for scientific study.

Sunrise Senior Living, which has provided seniors with quality memory care as well as independent and assisted living options for over 30 years, prides themselves on their ability to help seniors plan for their future. They dedicate an entire section of their blog to Finance and Planning and build a lecture series into their programming for all residents.

"It's very important to invest time to give careful thought and consideration in making decisions about end-of-life care," said Sunrise Vice President of Memory Care and Programming, Rita Altman. "At Sunrise, we focus on providing the resident, as well as their loved ones, with ongoing care and support. Knowing the resident's decisions about end-of-life care, particularly their needs and preferences, enables us to provide person-centered care that aligns with their wishes and focuses on their comfort and dignity as well as their emotional and spiritual needs."

It's been proven that education about end-of-life care and preparing a living will among people over the age of 65 leaves people with less fear and anxiety, more control about their health care, and an overall feeling of increased satisfaction. It's important for all of us to continue the conversation about end-of-life care, so that one day creating an advanced directive can be just as ubiquitous as the importance of a retirement fund.