For the 30% of older Australians with advance care plans (ACP) in place, the majority of plans are either incomplete, invalid or not legally binding.
The findings highlight a “looming minefield of family conflict and confusion”, according to Advance Care Planning Australia.
With dementia now the leading cause of death for Australians aged 85 and older, many Australians will be unprepared when it comes to end-of-life care.
About one third of people will be unable to make their own end-of-life decisions, according to the research.
An ACP offers people the opportunity to clarify their medical treatment preferences in advance, preparing themselves and loved ones for a time when they can no longer communicate.
The majority of ACP documents that were found among older Australians were ‘advance care plans’, where preferences are reported by either family or healthcare professionals. These documents can be used to guide care but are not legally binding.
The study audited the health records of more than 4,000 older people in hospitals, GP clinics and aged care facilities across Australia, and found women were more likely to have an ACD, indicating that men are leaving others to decide their future care for them.
“While ACP is by no means mandatory, we’re concerned for older people who expect to remain in control of their medical decisions as they age.
“If choice and control is important to you, advance care planning should be on your radar,” said Linda Nolte, Program Director of ACPA.
“It means you’re more likely to get the care you want and avoid treatment you don’t want.
“It also relieves loved ones of the burden of making life-and-death decisions by guesswork.”
“We also encourage people to ensure their ACD is coherent and properly dated, signed and witnessed.
“It may be the difference between whether your doctor follows your directive or not,” said Nolte.
Advance Care Planning Australia offers free information and advice to the Australian public and health professionals. Call 1300 208 582, Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm (AEST).