DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Every time I go to my doctor I am asked if I have an advance directive. What exactly is it, and at what age should I start thinking about this?
ANSWER: An advance directive is part of the advance care planning process. In this process, you look at your goals and values, and express your preferences for certain types of medical care based on these goals and values. It’s a process you should work through with the people you trust: your family, friends and medical provider. When you are ready to put your thoughts and preferences on paper, the actual form you fill out is an advance directive. It is a legal document that goes into effect only if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself.
At some point, nearly three-quarters of all people will be in a medical situation where they cannot communicate their wishes to their health care providers. This can happen to young people, as well as those who are older. Accidents, devastating events and unforeseen medical situations affect people of all ages. Having an advance directive makes clear to your health care team what you do and do not want in those situations.