03/15/2016 01:02 EDT | Updated 03/16/2017 05:12 EDT

Why It's Important To Define Critical Illness

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Patient wearing gown on hospital bed

We have a health conscious culture, and access to expert guidance and open dialogue about a variety of related subject matters is just a click away. Want a new exercise routine? Search for one on YouTube. Need a new healthy meal idea? Download an app. But we often don't tackle the more serious issues with the same amount of zeal. Discussion around critical illness in particular is less frequent, despite evidence that so many of us are touched by it.

According to a recent independent study conducted by Head Research and commissioned by Great-West Life, the vast majority of Canadians (75 per cent) know someone who suffered through a critical illness and half of us have witnessed a family member go through one.

Critical illness is a term used to describe a variety of life altering and unexpected health conditions that can severely impact the way you live including working, enjoying time with family, and other activities. This category typically includes heart attack, stroke and cancer, as well as other serious illnesses like Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, these are all too common which is why we might want to dedicate more thought to it.

Interestingly, when we do discuss critical illness our thoughts turn to the impact on our quality of life rather than the acute physical implications that come with a downturn in health. The same study reveals that nearly half of Canadians worry about not spending enough quality time with their children, and/or being able to live life to the fullest in the event of critical illness.

It makes sense. Our emotional and physical well-being are linked so the bigger picture comes to the fore. How would we manage when a serious illness prevents us from spending quality time with loved ones? Or conversely, how would we cope if there were barriers to caring for a loved one that was struck by a serious illness?

There is no question that we'd want the flexibility to spend as much time with them as possible if this became a reality, but it's hard to know how the finances would stack up. According to the survey, the majority of us would have to continue working if a child or partner became critically ill. Many of us (62 per cent) would need to go into debt, downsize our home, or delay retirement if we were struck by a serious illness, or had to care for someone affected by a serious illness.

That's why it's so important to ask: if something like this happened in my family, what could I do to prioritize family time, and help guarantee that the healing process was well resourced? While planning for the worst case can be uncomfortable, it can make all the difference. Having an open conversation with yourself and your partner is a great first step.

We can't necessarily prevent a critical illness, but there are steps we can take to lessen the financial burden one may face. Learn more about what Canadians are saying about critical illness and what you can do to plan ahead and cover additional costs associated with a serious illness.

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