National Healthcare Decisions Day Reminder to Stop Procrastinating

  • If you are one of the millions of adult children who worry about your aging parents, National Healthcare Decisions Day, which is April 16th, could be a very important day for your family. National Healthcare Decisions Day is set aside to spread awareness about the need for everyone to appoint a healthcare representative.


    According to Pew Research on end-of-life treatment, the growth in the number of people who say that they have a health directive went up 17 points between 1990 and 2005 - from 12% in 1990 to 29% now. Likely, today the number is much higher. However there are still far too many people without a healthcare directive. 

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    If we want the peace of knowing that someone who cares about us can take over our health decisions should we become unable to speak for ourselves, then we need to stop procrastinating and get it done. Though the focus on April 16th is on healthcare directives, people also need to appoint someone to act as Power Of Attorney for financial issues and to make out a will for the disposal of our assets. It’s often easiest to get all of these legal issues tended to at once.

    Death is a part of every human life cycle, yet many cultures, perhaps our own more than many, act as if ignoring this reality will keep it at bay. Our brains know that this thought process is nonsense, but our emotions can cause us to procrastinate indefinitely.

    As a columnist and forum moderator on the care of our aging elders, I hear terribly sad stories from the adult children of people who have dementia. Beloved parents need medical care and their adult children don’t have the required documents to make health and financial decisions. The parents, if they are very far into their dementia, may now be deemed legally unable to think clearly enough to have the documents drawn up for the family to use. In extreme cases, hospitals and courts have made decisions for an elder because of lack of planning.

    Having the conversation

    Often the hardest part of any undertaking is getting started. Talking with your aging parents about the legal documents needed for their loved ones to oversee their care if necessary is uncomfortable even for the closest families. Yet it’s one of the most important conversations you and your parents may ever have. To get this accomplished, there is help available.

    National Healthcare Decisions Day website is an invaluable tool. The home page is focused on increasing awareness of the need for health directives. Click on “Imagine” and you can view a video that could act as the spring board for your family to take action. is meant to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning. Their public resources section is the best list of available guidance I’ve seen.

    NHDD attempts to “Demystify healthcare decision-making and make the topic of healthcare decision-making inescapable. On Healthcare Decisions Day, no one in the U.S. will be able to open a paper, watch TV, view the internet, see a physician or lawyer, or go to a healthcare facility without being confronted with the topic. The event will help people understand that advance healthcare decision making includes much more than living wills; the process should focus first on conversation and choosing an agent.”

  • A few resources to get you started:

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    The Conversation Project - Starter kit (also available in Spanish)


    Aging With Dignity (Five Wishes)

    Project GRACE

    Health Directives for all 50 states

    Caring Connections - Download Free State Specific Advance Directives

    State-Specific Resources


    I’ve found that when adult children let their parents know that they are getting their legal work drawn up it’s often easier for elders to do so at the same time. You don’t need to wait for April 16th to get started. The sooner you get this very important task accomplished, the sooner you can rest peaceably about it and get on with the task of living.

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Published On: March 09, 2014