During National Advance Care Planning Week, from 21 - 27 March, the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) and Advance Care Planning Australia (ACPA) are calling on older Australians to think of advance care planning as an important aged care component.
Only 14 percent of Australians aged 65 and over have completed their advance care directive (ACD), however, 30 percent of older people will become too unwell to be able to make treatment decisions close to the end of their lives.
OPAN and ACPA want to use National Advance Care Planning Week to raise awareness about the fundamental importance of putting in place an advance care directive and planning for the future.
Chief Executive Officer of OPAN, Craig Gear OAM, says ensuring that older people have choice and control over their health decisions, now and into the future, is an important part of quality aged care, dignity and respect as we age.
"Advance care directives are a vital addition to upholding the rights, the independence and the dignity of older people," explains Mr Gear.
"OPAN would like to see the voluntary completion of advance care directives become a regular feature of planning ahead that will also ensure older people’s wishes are heard and upheld.
"During the current process of reforming aged care, the rights of and respect for older people must be at the centre of any new Aged Care Rights Act. Advance care directives are one tool to ensure those rights and choices are front of mind."
OPAN and ACPA are also calling on the Government and aged care providers to make more efforts in encouraging advance care planning as part of regular aged care planning.
An ACD is a legal document that outlines your future health care and treatment wishes for when you are no longer able to make decisions about your own medical care.
This document ensures your wishes are still followed even when you are no longer able to make them. An ACD can provide a sense of certainty, choice and control when your health starts to decline.
ACDs need to be completed and signed by a person when they still have decision making capacity, which is why OPAN and ACPA want to encourage older people to put in place an ACD earlier rather than later.
Program Director of ACPA, Linda Nolte, explains that advance care planning can offer the best chance for older people to live life on their own terms as they grow older and face more health challenges.
It also takes the difficult decisions out of the hands of your loved ones who would otherwise have to make these decisions on your behalf if you could no longer do so.
"Our national consultation and research revealed advance care directives are not currently part of routine care planning for older people," says Ms Nolte.
"These advance care directives should outline preferences of care and/or appoint a substitute decision-maker. This situation needs to change."
Since the aged care sector is under added COVID-19 pressures, like staff shortages and ongoing reform, ACPA and OPAN are encouraging older people to put ACDs in place to reduce the stress on families and carers during critical and unexpected events.
Around 30 percent of residents in aged care have had an advance care plan completed by a family member or carer rather than being able to make their own decisions about health and medical treatment.
Ms Nolte states, "It’s essential that we provide people the opportunity and support to plan earlier, while they still have capacity to make their own decisions and clearly express their own preferences and choices."
National Advance Care Planning Week is also a good opportunity to bring up difficult conversations with your loved ones about early planning for medical and health decisions for when you no longer have decision-making capacity.
Learn more about advance care planning on the National Advance Care Planning Week website or call the National Advance Care Planning Support Service on 1300 208 582, between 9 am - 5 pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time) from Monday to Friday, for advice and information.