Dying matters – talking about end-of-life care

Aileen Waton
Head of Dementia and Professional Standards at Bupa UK
15 May 2018

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This article is more than three years old. It reflects the best available evidence at the time of publication.

Talking about dying – it’s a difficult conversation to have. We know it’s taboo. We know it can be hard to think about what your wishes might be when time becomes short. But we also know it’s a conversation that could make a huge difference, and help things to happen in a way that you would prefer. So why wait to talk about something so important?

Why I’m passionate about end-of-life care conversations

Working as a registered nurse in a care home, I quickly learned that the experience of a ‘good’ death is just as important as any other point in a person’s journey through care. It’s the last chance you have to leave a good impression on that person, and their family. You can help them to have comfort and dignity, and make sure their wishes are met. For me, supporting people in their last days of life is such a privilege.

A ‘good’ death doesn’t happen by chance though. It happens because people care enough to ask the right questions and give the right information. They also get to know people and have courageous conversations, to ensure their wishes and preferences are captured in good time. Advance care planning – where a person records their wishes about end-of-life care before they become too unwell – is a key part of this.

You can find out more about advance care planning, including tools to get the conversation started, on the Dying Matters website.

What can you do to prepare for dying?

  • Talk to your loved ones about what you would want.
  • Ask them what they would want.
  • Speak to your GP or healthcare professional if you want to record these wishes.

Books about dying

Something you might want to do – whatever stage in life you are at – is to read one of the excellent books out there about dying. Here are a couple of inspiring and recommended examples.

  • ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande. This is an uplifting book about mortality by a US surgeon. He argues that in modern healthcare, we must ask what people’s priorities are when they are sick or frail. Doing so will radically shift the focus towards quality of life when time becomes short. This will ensure that the last months of our lives are as rich and dignified as possible.
  • ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi. This is the moving story of a brain surgeon at the pinnacle of his career, who is diagnosed with cancer at the age of 36. He describes how he realises that his work, fatherhood and writing this book are most important to him when he doesn’t have much time left.

Further end-of-life help, information and support

Organisations such as Dying Matters and Macmillan Cancer Support work hard to get us thinking and talking about end-of-life care. They also offer a wealth of support for people facing ill health, death or bereavement. Another organisation I would recommend, based in Scotland but with resources that are useful for people across the UK, is the charity Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief.

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available to you and your loved ones when you need it.

Aileen Waton
Aileen Waton
Head of Dementia and Professional Standards at Bupa UK

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