Visitors to the Northwest Levy Senior Center will begin “Starting the Conversation” today, as Life Matters Media co-founders Mary F. Mulcahy, MD and Randi Belisomo join an effort in conjunction with the City of Chicago Department of Family and Support Services to engage senior citizens in considering their end of life care preferences.
The organization, dedicated to enhancing dialogue surrounding end of life decision making, is making stops at each of Chicago’s 22 senior centers this fall. Mulcahy and Belisomo are outlining the need for advance care planning and the health care options seniors may face. “We believe that by engaging in these conversations, our relationships with our families and those we care about can really be strengthened,” Belisomo says. “In having this kind of dialogue, we share what really matters to us, and what makes life worthwhile.”
The two are engaging in role playing scenarios in which Mulcahy and Belisomo will play the parts of senior citizen and her adult child. They will also show seniors how to begin such a discussion at a doctor’s office- with Mulcahy playing the part of physician and Belisomo the role of patient.
Each senior will take with them a legally-binding Illinois Power of Attorney for Health Care form, for them to consider completing at home in the company of their families. The directives do not require the signature of an attorney, and go into effect if a patient is incapacitated and unable to speak for him or herself. “It helps others know what type of medical care you want,” Mulcahy says. “An advance directive allows you to express your values and desires.”
Life Matters Media made their first such visit last week, at the Copernicus Senior Center on Chicago’s northwest side. About 40 seniors were in attendance, ranging in age from 61-84. Of those surveyed, only nine reported having considering the care they desire at the end of life. Only five had discussed that care with someone else.
“Americans don’t talk about the end of life very often or very well,” Belisomo told the crowd. “We do not acknowledge and celebrate the last days of life like we do the first days of life after a birth. This denial does a disservice, we think, of not reviewing and acknowledging all you have been through, all you have done and all the relationships in which you have played a part.”
Only two members of the audience knew what an advanced directive was intended to do, and seniors took multiple copies of those provided home with them- for spouses and neighbors.
Kristine Kostrzewski, 61, provided Polish translation for the non-English speaking attendees. “You’ve gotta deal with it,” she said. “I’ve been here ten years, and they don’t consider it one way or another.”
Belisomo and Mulcahy will revisit the Copernicus Senior Center and the other centers this winter, so those who have discussed their end of life care with their families or
are completing advance directives can return with questions. “In end of life planning, it doesn’t work to have a drive-by or stop-in approach,” Mulcahy said. “These things take time and trust.”
For a schedule of “Starting the Conversation” presentations: CLICK HERE