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April 24, 2012 > Enjoying Life to the Fullest

Enjoying Life to the Fullest

Free Seminar Explores Quality of Life and How to Document Health Care Wishes

Sometimes it's only when we experience a drastic change in our lives - like chronic illness or the loss of a loved one - that we really begin to think about how much our quality of life matters.

"It's a new kind of normal when you have to adjust to major changes," according to Ellen Cuozzo, R.N., CHPN, Director of Hospice Services for Washington Hospital. "Medications, treatments for chronic illness, things like how your work might be affected by having to take insulin - it's amazing how it impacts so many things.

"People face all kinds of issues that have an impact of quality of life, such as 'I no longer can walk on my own' or 'I have a terminal diagnosis and I'm going to be leaving my loved ones.'"

On Tuesday, May 1, from 1 to 3 p.m., Cuozzo will present a free class, "Quality of Life Matters," which will help participants determine what quality of life issues are important to them, as well as how life changes can impact decision-making.

"I'm going to try to keep it light-hearted," she says. "I want to give people the opportunity to laugh, reflect, and chat about the things that are important to them. It's really comes down to enjoying life to the fullest. We're going to do an exercise where participants can look at things that make up their quality of life.

"In the end, what's important to you? Is it having family around you? Having your spiritual life in order? We'll look at the top 10 and then the top five areas to see what the essence of quality of life is to you."

Cuozzo says the seminar will start out as a fun exercise exploring quality of life before moving on to helping audience members document their most important wishes in the event they can no longer speak for themselves. Every attendee of the class will be given instructions on filling out an advance health care directive, which is a document that specifies end-of-life and health care wishes and helps family members and health care providers to respect individuals' final wishes.

However, it's not all about the person preparing the advance health care directive, she says. The document also helps loved ones.

"When you think about, it's something we all need to do; it's a practical matter," according to Cuozzo. "When you've made your choices known and what you want for your quality of life, an advance directive makes it easier for loved ones to grieve. They can say, 'I did what my mom wanted.' Honoring someone's healthcare wishes may be difficult but the rewards are great. You will have peace of mind."

She adds that overall, family members will be grateful to have a document to follow.

"So many times the family members I chat with, they say, 'She's in a coma now, and I don't know what she wanted.' Often it turns out that family members make drastically different choices than their loved one would have made, so having an advance directive or living will protects people from anxiety, indecision, and guilt."

Cuozzo recommends reading San Jose Mercury News reporter Lisa Krieger's examination of her father's final days as she asks the question: "Just because it's possible to prolong a life, should we?" By thinking about quality of life as well as end-of-life decisions and documenting them, it gives family members - and anyone else in your "love circle" a guideline to follow, according to Cuozzo.

"When I prepared this presentation, I didn't want it to be another hospice presentation," she explains. "I want to give people something a little striking to think about. Everybody is thinking about the quality life, and if they're not, it's important that they do."

She says it helps to think about these issues, talk about them, and put decisions down on paper to lessen uncertainty and eliminate ambiguity for loved ones in the future.

What matters to you?

To reflect with others about the issues that are important in your life and to learn more about advance health care directives, join Cuozzo for "Quality of Life Matters" on Tuesday, May 1, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium.

To register for the seminar, visit www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070.

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