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A Stanford nurse shares her experience in talking to her aging mother about end-of-life decisions

In this video, Stanford ICU nurse Laura Heldebrant recounts the story of her mother being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and the challenges she faced discussing end-of-life care with her mother. Heldebrant credits palliative care specialists with helping create an environment where her mother felt comfortable expressing how she wanted to live out her remaining days.

The video is part of a series titled "Can We Talk?" produced by VJ Periyakoil, MD, director of palliative care education and training at Stanford. The video series is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Periyakoil hopes the videos encourage people to engage their loved ones in conversations about their end-of-life wishes because delaying, or neglecting to have, such discussions can prolong aging patients' suffering:

The topic is intrinsically a sensitive one and it is hard to think about a time when our beloved parents will be no more. Also, despite the fact that death is a certainty for all of us, the eternal optimist in each of us prefers to think that we have lots of time before we get to that point. As a result, these crucial end-of-life conversations which should ideally occur in a non-crisis time in the comfort of our homes unfortunately happen during a time of medical crisis in the chaos of the hospital. When we are in crisis mode, we tend to “go with the medical flow” and the default is always heavily slanted towards advanced medical technology.

While advances in biomedical technology are indeed a boon for mankind, there comes a point in everyone’s life when the treatment becomes more burdensome than the disease itself. At that point, all the medicines and technology in the world will be ineffective in prolonging life and will only result in prolonging the dying process. Furthermore, in addition to escalating the costs, these ineffective attempts also erode the patient’s quality of life and their dignity. Much of this can be prevented by finding the time and the courage to listen to our aging parents and other loved ones when they express their end of life wishes. To me, the act of active listening is an act of love.

Previously: Stanford physician discusses rapid growth of palliative medicine and legislation to meet demandsHelping caregivers practice palliative care and Examining the generational gap between physicians and patients in hospice and palliative care

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