While late life can come with its share of losses and challenges, you can take action to increase or maintain the quality of life you desire.
Senior Director, Center for Healthy Aging, National Council on Aging
A guiding principle: End-of-life decisions should not be made at the end of life. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) suggests these nine things you can do for yourself or a loved one late in life:
Make decisions now about your healthcare plans for the future. Advance care planning can help you express how you want to be treated when you are unable to speak for yourself. Such planning will also help loved ones and medical staff to act on your behalf and treat you according to your values and wishes. Your preferences can be put in writing through advance care directives and include a living will, a power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and a regular will, among other things.
Have multiple conversations about care at the end of life with your loved ones and the person you have chosen as power of attorney. These important talks take the guessing out of decisions loved ones would have to make at a particularly emotional or stressful time. You can find more information about these at The Conversation Project.
Reflect on the enjoyable and rewarding parts of life and think about expressing gratitude or sharing sentiments that have never been said.
Create a bucket list of things to do before the end. These items, which should be appropriate for a person’s health conditions, could include visiting friends and family, traveling to favorite places or new places a person has always wanted to go to, or simply enjoying the home environment.
Understand how to maximize your health during those last days. Meet with a nutritionist and understand what foods are the most important for boosting energy and enjoying life to the fullest.
Get as much physical activity as is appropriate for you, as exercise can help maintain or boost mental health. Try meditation or guided imagery. Specialized meditation is available for those who are dying to help with being more emotionally and spiritually prepared and fostering appreciation for the life lived.
Write letters to your loved ones. Letters are a personal, intimate way to connect with those who are most important in your life. People you are leaving behind will have something special to remember you by.
Find the resources that allow you to live a normal life. For example, don’t reject using canes and walkers. Some people have a lot of pride and don’t want to use them, but they support greater mobility. Computers can be adapted for low vision or those who are hard of hearing.
Accept hospice care if it is recommended by your physician. Hospice is a Medicare benefit that helps people who have six months or less to live have a comfortable end. For many people, pain management is the most important part of dying with dignity. Hospice is available at home, in assisted living, and in nursing homes. Dying at home with hospice surrounded by family is preferred by most people.