Aotearoa is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an unsettling time, and it is natural for people to be anxious. However, it is also an opportunity for people to plan for a scenario where they may become suddenly unwell. They can do this by thinking about what matters most to them if they became unwell, choosing the person they want to make decisions if they are not able to speak for themselves and, if possible, their preferred medical treatment.
Research shows people who have considered these options are less likely to have depression even though they are facing major health challenges. It also shows that families and whānau of people who have done an advance care plan have less anxiety and stress and are more satisfied with the care their loved ones receive.
We know that older New Zealanders are most at risk of serious illness as a result of COVID-19, particularly those with existing conditions such as lung and heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
For some people, planning now – whether or not your plan is needed – may offer a sense of control and reduce anxiety.
Things COVID-19 might bring up for you:
- You may be worried about what might happen if you or a loved one falls ill with COVID-19.
- If you already have an advance care plan, you might be thinking about whether the wishes you’ve expressed in your plan will still be possible in this current environment. Many things about the way health care is delivered have had to change so New Zealand can stop the spread of COVID-19. For example, if you need to go to hospital, it may not be possible for you to have your family and whānau with you.
- The rules around after death plans, funerals and tangihanga have also changed, which may mean the choices in your plan may not be available. More information is available on the COVID-19 website.
- You may have a long-term condition and be wondering about how your health care team will care for you while New Zealand is at alert level 4. They may not be able to offer or deliver services in the way they normally would, including palliative care. This may affect the choices in your plan.
- You may be caring for a loved one and wondering how the wishes in their plan may have to change as a result of COVID-19.
If you don’t have a plan, we recommend starting a conversation with your family, being clear about what you would want. These conversations can be challenging, but they are not harder than having the conversation in the emergency room with a loved one unable to speak. It is also a good time to clarify who is best placed to make your medical treatment decisions if you were to become suddenly unwell.
Having an advance care plan is a gift you can give your family to help support decisions about your health care, if you are not able to.