Before COVID-19, many of us over the age of 60 never regarded ourselves as “older adults” or as someone with an underlying medical condition. However, it didn’t take long for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and county public health officers to place new classifications on us once the novel coronavirus arrived in the United States.
I have many friends over the age of 60 who would consider themselves vital, with jobs or volunteer duties, large networks and busy lives.
Their age was never a primary identifier for them, and their medical situation was something they controlled while still managing their robust lives.
For many of my friends, the stay-at-home order caused them to consider the way society views them now, at least from a health perspective.
While COVID-19 is sending some young, previously healthy people to the intensive care unit, older adults are at the greatest risk of both severe disease and long-term impairment.
Poor survival odds and the potential for long-term complications lead to difficult conversations for older patients, families and clinicians, so we may want to think through our personal plan if we get sick and cannot advocate for ourselves.
The story of Casey Kasem’s final days is an example of the heartbreak that occurs when families are torn apart because wishes for care remain unknown and individual family members’ beliefs differ.
Many of us may remember Kasem from his radio program “American Top 40.”
When Kasem died in 2014, he was married to his second wife. He had a progressive form of dementia that left him unable to speak. As his health worsened, his wife prevented his children from his first marriage from seeing him.
Those children sought a court order to take over their father’s care, but it was denied. Ultimately they filed a wrongful death suit against his second wife.
The lawsuit was settled in 2019, and the experience left Kasem’s daughter Kerri, in her own words, “distraught and heartbroken.”
We can take these lessons into the era of COVID-19. Chances are things will never fully return to the old normal, so now is the perfect time to think about our desires. What if we do get sick, what kind of treatment do we want? And who do we want to advocate for us if we can’t advocate for ourselves?
A local nonprofit, the Ventura County Coalition for Compassionate Care, along with Health-e-Medrecord, produced a 13-minute public service video hosted by Kerri Kasem, a radio and TV host, activist and speaker.
The title of the video is “Continuing the Legacy: A Conversation with Kerri Kasem.” It can be found at vcccc.org.
The project is near and dear to Kasem’s heart. The video follows five people who have experience with healthcare decisions for loved ones, especially at the end of life.
The same website offers a COVID Conversations Toolbox which includes resources, webinars, scripts and forms to think through and develop your own advance care directives.
The pandemic makes the threat of becoming seriously ill real and emphasizes the need to know our own wishes, as well as the wishes of our loved ones, and to ensure they are communicated.
Why not use the time many of us have at home right now to create and communicate your own personal plan? You will be giving a priceless gift to your loved ones.