By Damaris Lopez

The mission is simple. Encourage all Americans to consider, discuss, and document their advance healthcare wishes, and encourage healthcare providers to honor those wishes better.

Since 2008 people nationwide have been encouraged to set aside April 16 and recognized it as National Healthcare Decision Day (NHDD). The effort is spearheaded by a national nonprofit foundation and supported by the National Hospice Foundation, as well as many other organizations nationally and locally.

The NHDD initiative is a collaborative effort designed to ensure all adults with decision-making capacity in the United States have the information and opportunity to communicate and document their healthcare decisions.

While the stated purpose of this day is to educate and inform the public about the healthcare process and inspire them to participate in advanced care planning, it is really a day about taking action.

Advance care planning is something people often avoid as it may be uncomfortable to talk about what a loved one’s wishes would be if they became severely ill, but NHDD is in place to remind everyone that it’s better to know these wishes now before it is too late. And knowing those wishes is just the first step. You need to take the time to prepare a living will and create a healthcare surrogate designation.

In fact, this year’s theme is It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late. It is critical that you sit down with loved ones and have a conversation about your wishes. This way no one has to guess what you would want in case of a medical emergency. This should also involve completing your advanced directives forms to do all you can to guarantee your wishes will be followed.

Elder Options Executive Director Kristen Griffis recently saw the importance of taking these steps on a surprising and personal level.

“People think this is a conversation that you need to have with older relatives, but we discovered that’s not always the case. You’re never too young to have the conversation,” she said. “Recently, a very good friend in their early 50s suffered a massive heart attack and was in a coma. He never had the conversation with his significant other, who, as a result, did not know how to handle the situation.

“To me, the importance of this day is the need for education,” she said. “When we’re talking about advance directives people just don’t understand. I know when I bring it up with my family, it is a very uncomfortable conversation for many reasons. The tragedy is people wait until it’s too late, and then you are in crisis mode. Everyone has to have this conversation and act on the results, and if this day serves as a reminder, that’s great. We appreciate any type of movement or education initiative that increases awareness about this issue and gets people to take action.”

So by talking about these topics ahead of time, no one will be forced to make tough medical decisions on your behalf – assuming they will even be able to. Celebrate National Healthcare Decision Day this year by making sure your wishes are in order.


Other stories in this issue include:

Sam Boone’s column on the importance of Advance Directives

Making End-of-Life Decisions with Alzheimer Patients by David Huckabee

Basics of Making Healthcare Decisions by Tom Rinkoski

Sally Dahlem’s column on Creating a Comfortable Setting for Loved Ones