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On National Healthcare Decisions Day, advocates spotlight end-of-life planning

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Suzanne Potter

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(California News Service) Today is National Healthcare Decisions Day, a day when everyone is encouraged to review their end-of-life planning. The 2024 Alzheimer's Association annual report predicts that the number of Americans 65 and older who are living with the most common form of dementia will double from nearly 7 million to 14 million patients by 2050.

Jessica Empeno, national director of clinical engagement with the end-of-life advocacy group Compassion & Choices, said legal matters are just part of the equation.

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"The most important part is to have conversations about what matters most to you, what your wishes are, and share those things, not only with your family and your loved ones but with your health-care team," she explained.

People may want to put in writing who they want to be able to make decisions on their behalf once dementia progresses. They might consider whether in the future they would be OK with things like artificial hydration or nutrition, aggressive treatments or surgeries.

Compassion & Choices' website offers a free End of Life Decisions tool and a Dementia Values & Priorities Tool that helps people communicate and document their future health-care wishes, both for those who have early-stage dementia or those who just want to be prepared for the possibility.

Angela Schultz, California state advocacy director for Compassion & Choices, said people need to make a plan sooner rather than later.

"We just did recent polling, and 93 percent of Americans said that having an advanced directive and a health-care proxy and sharing that with your doctor is very important. But only 37 percent of Americans have done that," she said.

National Healthcare Decisions Day falls on April 16th, the day after tax day. It is a reference to the famous quote from Benajmin Franklin that "In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes."