Posted in Caregiving

As If You Didn’t Have Enough to Worry About

Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!

Just when you think being a decision maker in the role of caregiver/wellness partner a new study lays an extra burden of responsibility on your shoulders.  The findings are in reference to a study done on patients who had been labeled in a permanent vegetative state.  In many cases the family is asked if they want to continue the person on life support or have other extreme measures performed.  That decision can be easier if you know that the person is truly in a permanent vegetative state.  But what if you’re not sure.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on the study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  The study examined 23 patients who had been diagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state.  Four of the patients showed signs of consciousness…can you believe it 4 of 23.

Using MRI scans the patients were asked questions and their brains were monitored.  Certain responses would light-up certain parts of the brain.  The WSJ article stated “Four of the 23 vegetative patients responded to the commands and exhibited brain activity in the same areas as healthy control subjects”.

When trying to make potentially life and death decisions as a caregiver (hopefully you were mindful to have a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare) you are now burdened with the quandary, “Is the person I’m caring for really in a permanent vegetative state or is he/she one like in the studies that can still responds to questions?’ 

I believe the medical ethicists are all gathering to take up this matter on a big-picture discussion.  How would you handle this situation as a caregiver?  If the decision is your, how will you know whether the person you’re caring for has some level of consciousness?  

Dr. Allan H. Ropper said, “the line between consciousness and unconsciousness will be blurred” as scientific understanding of the vegetative state depends.  This is not the most comforting statement for those of you caring for someone who is facing end of life issues or has been in an accident, but for now it’s the reality.

Who do you have that you can discuss these issues with such as a medical ethicist or spiritual director?  Did you have thorough conversations with the person you’re caring for about end-of-life issues?  There are those who even though they may have brain activity, on whatever level, wouldn’t want to live the rest of the days unable to speak, move, or communicate.  Even if the brain might register some activity is this a life?  You know this will wind up in the courts at some point, but for now the onus of responsibility is on you.

I know there is more to come; this is truly the tip of the iceberg.  Please have conversations with your loved ones about end-of-life care.  Decision-making for caregivers is tough enough without the burden of deciding one’s level of consciousness.

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