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OPAN and ACPA call for overhaul to aged care advance care planning

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The Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) and Advance Care Planning Australia (ACPA) have called for older Australians to have more choice and control over their health and aged care planning decisions.

Both organisations are calling for advance care planning to be recognised as a fundamental component of quality aged care as National Advance Care Planning Week kicks off today.

Alarmingly, only 14 per cent of older Australians aged 65+ have completed an advance care directive (ACD).

Yet around 30 per cent of the population will be too unwell to make their treatment decisions at the end of their lives.

… advance care directives are not currently part of routine care planning for older people. This situation needs to change.

ACPA program director, Linda Nolte

An advance care directive is a legal document outlining a person’s preferences and instructions for their future health care.

The document comes into effect when a person is not capable of making their own treatment decisions, providing a sense of certainty, choice and control in the face of declining health.

However, advance care directives are only legal when completed and signed by people with decision-making capacity. 

Advance care planning offers the best chance for individuals to live life on their own terms as they age and face more health challenges.

It makes sense to plan ahead, rather than leaving it to chance and forcing loved ones to decide for us.

“Our national consultation and research revealed advance care directives are not currently part of routine care planning for older people,” ACPA program director Linda Nolte explained.

“These advance care directives should outline preferences of care and/or appoint a substitute decision-maker.

“This situation needs to change.”

Advance care directives are a vital addition to upholding the rights, the independence and the dignity of older people.

OPAN CEO, Craig Gear

At present the aged care system is under extreme pressure with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff shortages and aged care reforms, and older people are facing those stressors directly.

Encouraging older people to develop advance care directives can mitigate many stresses they, their families and carers face at critical moments in their lives.

OPAN CEO Craig Gear said ensuring people have choice and control over health care decisions, now and into the future, is an important component of quality aged care and dignity and respect for our choices as we age.”

“Advance care directives are a vital addition to upholding the rights, the independence and the dignity of older people,” he said.

“OPAN would like to see the voluntary completion of advance care directives become a regular feature of planning ahead that will also ensure older people’s wishes are heard and upheld.”

Gear said during the current process of reforming aged care, the rights of and respect for older people must be at the centre of any new Aged Care Rights Act.

“Advance care directives are one tool to ensure those rights and choices are front of mind,” he said.

OPAN would like to see the voluntary completion of advance care directives become a regular feature of planning ahead that will also ensure older people’s wishes are heard and upheld.

Craig Gear

For older people in residential aged care, 30 per cent of residents had an advance care plan completed by someone else such as a family member or carer, rather than making these choices themselves.

“It’s essential that we provide people the opportunity and support to plan earlier, while they still have capacity to make their own decisions and clearly express their own preferences and choices,” Nolte said.

OPAN and ACPA have called for governments and care providers to do more to ensure advance care planning is part of routine aged care.

The health and aged care workforce, they said, should be better supported to work with older people to identify their preferences and provide care that aligns with their preferences.

National Advance Care Planning Week is a great time to have the conversations that matter and document your values and preferences. Make your future health care your choice – and let those closest to you know your preferences.

To inform older people and the aged care sector on the necessity of advance care planning, OPAN and ACPA are partnering on a free webinarAdvance care planning is for everyone, from 11.30am-12.30pm AEDT Tuesday 22 March.

Register your interest here.

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