Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Crucial Conversations

There has been a much-needed push in the media to get people to talk about end-of-life issues with their doctors and with family members. As important as these conversations are I suggest that conversations about aging are more crucial. Why?

The dying process is hugely important but relatively short-term (weeks or months). Much of the sequence and rhythm of events is dictated by the illness that is now terminal. Family and friends are called upon to provide company and care in this highly charged atmosphere. Lots of drama and adrenalin.

The aging process is more of a decades-long marathon. Most everyone who ages will experience some combination of

various chronic conditions, for example, arthritis, hearing loss, diabetes, memory deficits, etc.
acute illnesses at intervals, for example, cancer, stroke, heart attack, broken hip, knee surgery.

Almost everyone will eventually need some assistance with the normal activities of daily living ranging from food preparation to transportation to personal hygiene.

We may not know exactly what will go wrong and when but we do know that there are going to by these kinds of problems. My questions is---how do we begin to talk with each other about these probable futures?

So much is at stake!

It isn’t until we start to talk honestly that we can discover to ourselves and to each other our current condition, probable futures, values, assumptions, ignorance, fears, hopes. Especially we need to talk to the people on whom we will be depending---whether we like it or not; whether we want to or not---so that the partnership can be as informed and consensual as possible.

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