Michael Gordon, MD, MSc, FRCPC, Medical Program Director, Baycrest Geriatric Health Care System; Professor of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.
Of the many challenges that face families when looking after their older loved ones, of the most difficult is deciding on end-of-life decisions. The accepting or rejecting artificial nutrition and hydration, apparently life-saving antibiotic intervention for an aspiration pneumonia or urinary tract infection or the implementation of theoretically life-saving cardio-pulmonary resuscitation are among the many decisions that substitute decision-makers, who are often close family members, have to make. More often than not, these types of decisions are required in urgent situations where a time-consuming deliberative process that might be expected for a well-thought out decision to be reached is not possible because of the pressures of the potentially fatal clinical situation. Proper preparation for such eventualities usually requires time and thought that includes exploration of personal values and wishes in what ideally should occur during conversations between older loved ones at risk of or in the throes of dementia when discussions might still take place. These revealing communications must occur with those that are responsible for making these very personal and potentially life-altering clinical decisions.