End–of–Life Planning

End–of–Life Planning: The Need to Talk Now A new project at La Trobe's Albury–Wodonga Campus gives people the tools.

In Ancient Egypt, people were often laid to rest clutching bottles of beer, in a gesture believed to set the dearly departed up for a good start in the after-life.

While attitudes towards death vary significantly across history and cultures, it is no surprise that most Australian's avoid talking about death, especially in regards to someone who is still alive.

A new project, called Evaluative Life Review and Advance Care Planning (ELR/ACP) led by La Trobe University's Professor Annette Street and funded with a $150,000 grant from Victoria's Department of Human Services, will give older people the opportunity to tell their story, and make a scrap book or video about their life with complete creative freedom.

This process will also help to open the discussion about lifestyle goals and future preferences for medical treatment, in anticipation of a time when it might not be possible for that person to discuss their wishes, a process called Advance Care Planning.

"Choosing life-prolonging treatment is a deeply personal and complex decision best left to the individual themselves, and in all cases the program aims to make sure that there is someone else who knows the choices that have been made, and can present the person's wishes to the doctor, " says Professor Street .

To do this well, a person's story, hopes and aspirations need to be fully understood.

"If a person suddenly falls sick and there is nothing documented, there is often conflict at a time when families need each other most," she says.

"Many families are torn apart in what, is a highly emotional and confusing time."

Making choices early on, Professor Street says, avoids relying on guess work and also eliminates the potential for guilt down the track.

"It is really about giving people control, and preparing families for the time when they have to make hard decisions."

Participants in the program, who must be over 75 and live in rural areas, will also have the opportunity to talk about preferences for future health assistance, including place of care.

"We are aiming to make these choices a conversation topic in rural communities. I believe the more people talk about it, the less confronting the issue becomes," Professor Street added.

The research team is part of the university's Albury-Wodonga Campus John Richards Initiative into research in aged care in rural communities, and will recruit from Victoria's North East.

To arrange an interview or for further information, please contact Mark Pearce, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

Phone: 03 9479 5246
Mobile: 0423 783 756
Email: m.pearce@latrobe.edu.au

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