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Episode 107: Conversation of Your Life

Have you made your end-of-life decisions and let them be known? If not, why not? What if a crisis occurs and you’re not able to express your wishes?

The August episode of Aging Insights is an encore broadcast of “Conversation of Your Life” from 2018, which covers these often-sensitive and very timely issues. Host Melissa Chalker interviewed Deborah Levine, MPH, then the Director of Community Health at the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute (https://www.njhcqi.org/), and Ted Taylor, Director, Pastoral Care and Training, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton (https://www.rwjbh.org/rwj-university-…). The two guests discuss the Quality Institute’s “Conversation of Your Life” (COYL) program (https://www.njhcqi.org/coyl/), why it’s important to talk about end-of-life planning, the unique aspects of various end-of-life planning documents and why your wishes should be put in writing.

Launched in 2011, Aging Insights is an award-winning, half-hour monthly TV show produced by NJ Foundation for Aging, which promotes dialogue and provides resources on critical issues for older adults and caregivers. Episode 107-“Conversation of Your Life” can be viewed here on YouTube, on NJFA’s website at https://www.njfoundationforaging.org/… and more than 70 public-access stations across NJ (check local listings for channels and times).

On the show, Levine explained that several years back, the Quality Institute, in partnership with the Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Policy, conducted research on NJ’s attitudes on end-of-life care. Sixty-percent of adult respondents said they were comfortable discussing end-of-life wishes at a wellness visit or at the dinner table, but the same number had never done that before.

The COYL program provides mayors and community partners with tools to develop community conversations around end-of-life-planning in a culturally sensitive and accessible way. COYL, now in 14 counties across New Jersey, has also developed innovative programs to continue these critical conversations during the global pandemic and the need for social distancing. COYL’s COVID-19 resources are available at https://bit.ly/COYLResources.

Levine said that people are often afraid to have this conversation. “Talking about death or end-of-life wishes is intimidating, sometimes taboo–even among doctors–so it can be really hard to bring this up, even if you’d like to. If you don’t talk about it, then your family, your loved ones, your doctors are going to give it their best guess, and you might not receive the care that you truly want.”

Taylor echoed her sentiments. “Time and again, day by day, I and a lot of my colleagues in health care chaplaincy, as well as ethicists, have the experience of families coming to these crisis events with their loved ones at the end of life, usually in an ICU, without having thought through all of this,” he said. “And the crisis becomes even more painful because there has not been a direction.

“Sometimes, days and weeks can go by. You just see the suffering in that family because there hadn’t really been a conversation about what it’s supposed to be like. And I also see the suffering on the faces of my colleagues who are nurses and doctors because we’re trying to do the right thing–doing it without direction from that person,” Taylor added. “It’s become a passion of mine to give people information so they can make wise choices that align with their values and might not alight with the values of some of their family members, and so there needs to be clarity. I encourage anyone who’s of legal age to consider writing their advance directive. We never know what will happen.”

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New Jersey Foundation for Aging is the only statewide nonprofit organization focused solely on providing leadership in public policy and education to enable older adults to live with independence and dignity in their communities. In addition to its policy leadership role, NJFA produces the award-winning Aging Insights and presents an annual conference offering development opportunities and best practices for professionals entrusted with caring for seniors. This year’s conference, “2020 Vision for Successful Aging,” takes place online Thursday, Aug. 13, and Friday, Aug. 14, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. For the schedule and to register, visit https://www.njfoundationforaging.org/.

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