Consider for a moment you receive a call that your elderly grandmother, who has been fairly healthy, has recently been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Do you know how she would want to be cared for as her disease progresses?

Again, ponder this; your father, who has never been open to discussing such things as Advanced Directives or Hospice Care, now has been given a prognosis of six months. What steps will you take? How will you honor his wishes?

Now imagine, if you can, your wife suffers a traumatic brain injury and no longer has the opportunity to speak for herself. Have you had the discussion with her as to what treatments she would be open to and to what extent?

Picture this; your doctor delivers news that chemo is no longer an option. What are your goals? Where do you hope to live if you can no longer live at home? Who do you want caring for you as your time draws near? How do you want to spend your final days?

Now, for a moment more, contemplate how much simpler each of these decisions would be for you to make if you’d already had the important end-of-life-care conversation ...

There is a sentiment that many hospice professionals share; it’s never too soon to Start the Conversation until it’s too late. There is no time like the present. I find it ironic how we take time to plan for every milestone in our lives; graduations, marriage, children, retirement ... and yet we neglect to tackle the vital discussion of how we want to be cared for as we enter into our final chapter of life. Why is that? Perhaps because we’re just not sure how to begin the conversation with our loved ones. Perhaps because we’re afraid of our own mortality. Perhaps we feel that it’s too soon to have the conversation. Whatever the reason, we can agree the conversation is best put to use when it happens early and not in a crisis situation.

VNA & Hospice of SVHC periodically offers a free open forum discussion, called Start the Conversation, for the communities we serve. Members of our Hospice Team facilitate these discussions which include Advanced Directives, Living Wills, Palliative Care and Hospice Care. We also share a wonderful information packet full of great ways to start the conversation. We invite you to join us during one of these scheduled times:

July 15 - Community Hall, First Baptist Church - 4 p.m.

July 29 - North Bennington Fire House - 6 p.m.

Aug. 12 - Woodford Town Hall - 6 p.m.

Aug. 26 - Shaftsbury Fire House - 6 p.m.

Sept. 9 - Pownal Library - 6 p.m.

For more information, please call 442-5502.

Mary Pleasant is the volunteer coordinator at VNA & Hospice of SVHC. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.