Advance care planning

Advance care planning

Advance care planning can sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

Advance care planning is a process, not just a document. It’s a way to ensure that a person’s wishes and decisions about the care they receive are honoured at the end of life.

Discussing with the person in your care about what they would want in the future (if they are no longer able to express their wishes) can be a difficult conversation to have. It is never too early to make an advance care plan and it’s something you can do together with the person in your care. Having these types of conversations, if done in the right way, can even bring you closer together and will certainly make things easier in the long run, in the event that something does happen.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Who should make an advance care plan?

  • Every adult should consider advance care planning. It may be easier to make an advance care plan early rather than waiting until one seems necessary.

When is an advance care plan used?

  • An advanced care plan is used only when someone isn’t able to make health care decisions for themselves (for example, if someone is in a coma or their illness has impaired their ability to make decisions).

How does advance care planning help caregivers?

  • Advance care planning makes end-of-life care easier for you and the person you are caring for. How? By providing clarity.

    In the advance care plan, a substitute decision maker is chosen. This person learns the wishes of the person who has named them. The substitute decision maker will be consulted and the advance care plan used only if a person cannot make health care decisions for themselves.This clarity helps health care professionals and lowers the stress for everyone involved, especially caregivers. This also prevents potential conflict between family members who may not agree about what they think the person’s wishes are or would be.

Did you know that each province and territory has specific legislation to support the documentation of advance care planning? For example, some provinces use different terminology when referring to a substitute decision maker. Speak Up states that “Depending on the laws of your province, this person might also be known as a medical proxy, a health representative or agent or a Power of Attorney for Personal Care.”

Advance care planning resource

Start an advance care planning discussion

By planning early, caregivers can ensure that the person they are caring for has a say in the health care decisions that lie ahead, should there come a time when he or she is unable to make these decisions for themselves.

Tips for starting an advance care planning discussion

  • Choose a comfortable setting—perhaps while out for a walk or a drive, rather than a formal meeting.
  • Start the conversation with an example he or she can relate to, such as, “Aunt Mary had so many tests when she was in the hospital before she died. What did you think about that?”
  • Think about the conversation as being about values and wishes, not specific treatments. For example, instead of saying, “Do you think you would want CPR if your heart stopped?” start by talking about things that would be meaningful for the person at the end of life (for example, being at home).
  • Remember that advance care planning is not just one conversation so don’t be concerned if you face resistance at first.
  • Remind the person in your care that advance care planning will reduce the stress and anxiety that others will feel when trying to make these important decisions on their behalf.

A caregiver’s role in advance care planning

When caring for and supporting someone who is exploring the advance care planning process, you will need to consider two very important things:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Respect

The person you are caring for has the right and freedom to make informed decisions and actions for themselves and this needs to be respected at all times. The need for respect and dignity doesn’t change when a person becomes ill or disabled. Indeed, it may grow even stronger.

As caregivers, we must be careful not to give in to the urge to be “protective” at the expense of the rights of the person in our care.

Remember that the person in your care retains the right to make important life decisions for themselves when it comes to advance care planning unless their capacity for cognitive decision making has been impaired or they are literally unable to communicate (for example, being unconscious).


Take one step this week to begin an advance care planning discussion. Use the Speak Up resource to help you take the first step and continue with the process.

At Elizz, we provide caregiver support for you and home care services for those who depend on you. Elizz is a Canadian company powered by Saint Elizabeth, a national not-for-profit health care organization that has been caring for Canadians since 1908.




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