Choose your own adventure, says Kate Stanton

“Almost everyone who isn’t really unlucky gets to 80,” says Charlie Corke, an intensive care specialist at Barwon Health’s University Hospital Geelong, Victoria. Indeed, two-thirds of Australians will die after age 75, of chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, dementia and lung cancer.

Writing in The Monthly (We need to talk about dying, October 28, 2016) Kate Stanton reports that “A new initiative teaches doctors how to help patients plan for their deaths before it’s too late.”

She says: ‘After discovering that many doctors had not spoken about dying to their terminally ill patients in the intensive care unit (ICU), Barwon Health decided the doctors needed some practice, and designed a two-day training course called iValidate, which gives doctors the chance to work on their skills with actors.’

Deakin University lecturer Sharyn Milnes, who co-ordinates ethics and communications training for medical students, says lack of understanding is a “big problem”:

A lot of people don’t even know they’re dying. They come into hospital and have this one little problem fixed, sent to rehab or sent to a nursing home and nobody’s even said to them, “The most you’ve got to live is 12 months.”

Many practitioners believe that earlier discussion of palliative care or other underused resources, such as advanced care planning, only benefits patients. With more knowledge, they can make choices about how they want to spend the rest of their life, says Stanton.

“But advanced care directives – special plans that detail a patient’s medical wishes in the event of an emergency – are relatively rare. Less than 1% of Australians over 70 have one.”

“Deakin University is a rarity in requiring medical students to complete simulation programs that take students through potential conversations with dying patients and their families — a sort of “choose your own adventure” for end-of-life choices.”

There is some good news according to Stanton: “A number of organisations have developed resources to get people started. Death Over Dinner helps individuals plan dinner parties where death is discussed. The Groundswell Project organises Dying to Know Day each August 8. Palliative Care Australia has a Dying to Talk discussion starter pack.”

Add to that list the Die-alogue Cafe method and we have all the ingredients necessary to get stuck into how we would like to live until we die and then how we would like our loved ones to deal with our deaths. Let’s get out of the closet, throw some light on the subject.  As Marjorie Jenkins would say: embrace life with grace and gusto.  Take a browse over her website: http://www.yodo.org/

To read Kate Stanton’s full story go to: https://www.themonthly.com.au/blog/kate-stanton/2016/28/2016/1477612744/we-need-talk-about-dying

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