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NHS HIGHLAND: Courageous conversations can prevent pain for your family

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NHS Highland ran a campaign in September to encourage people across our board area to consider planning for a time when you many no longer be able to make decisions for yourself.

Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics.

As the head of spiritual care and staff support in Highland, based at Raigmore Hospital, I often witness patient’s concerns during life changing or challenging times for them and their families. My role is to provide spiritual care to patients and their loved ones, which can lead to conversations about practical issues and ‘what matters’ to the individual, encouraging people at any stage of life to consider the importance of Power of Attorney as a means of recording one’s wishes can be empowering.

Granting a Power of Attorney allows you to nominate who would make decisions for you if you were no longer able to make them yourself. This would be someone you trust, such as a relative or close friend.

Power of Attorney is a written document giving someone else authority to take actions or make decisions on behalf of the person concerned. The individual chooses the person or persons they want to help them, called an attorney, and decides what powers they should have.

Not having Power of Attorney secured can have a significant impact on patients and their families, especially when a loved one is diagnosed with a long-term illness such as dementia. It can create long delays in accessing necessary services or being in hospital longer than required.

When you appoint a family member or friend as an attorney, you are taking a positive step by choosing someone you trust to look after your affairs. Practical issues, such as finances, can be a difficult subject for families to discuss, especially after a loved one has died.

I speak to patients of all ages and recognise the significance of timely conversations with family; these moments are valuable and can be extremely important so that their wishes are respected. They are not nice conversations to have, but the reality is that during times of illness family relationships can be strained. And often differences within family units' surface causing further distress at a time when meaningful connection and support is vital. Talking about ‘what matters to you’ and engaging in courageous conversations can prevent a lot of heartache and pain for your family when decisions about your health and welfare are necessary.

I would recommend that families look to secure Power of Attorney as soon as they possibly can. There is a common misconception that you can still appoint an attorney upon learning of a diagnosis of a long-term illness. This is not always the case. A solicitor or medical doctor must interview you and sign your document to show you understand the decision you are making.

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Janet Davidson is head of spiritual care and staff support at NHS Highland.

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