A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Why high school seniors need an advance directive

Father helping son on homework - Advance directives for teenagers

Talk with your teen about completing an advance directive when he or she turns 18.

Spring for high school seniors is a time of great excitement. Whether starting college or entering the work force, students are thinking about their futures and all the great things life may have in store for them.

But it’s also a time to consider what this newfound independence means. Turning 18 means you have new responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is being your own health care decision maker.

18 means new responsibilities

Parents and students alike are often unaware that, when a person turns 18, parents are no longer able to make health care decisions for their children. Because of this, young people need to plan ahead.

Consider the following example. You’re 18, on your own at college, and while riding your bike to class you get in an accident and suffer a traumatic brain injury. You are unable to communicate, and your parents do not have legal authority to tell medical professionals how to care for you. It’s a scary situation, but there is a way to plan ahead. This is where advance care planning is crucial.

It’s about conversations

Advance care planning is about having conversations with your loved ones regarding your beliefs, preferences for care, and determining who you would want to speak for you in a medical situation if you couldn’t speak for yourself. Completing an advance directive allows you to outline your wishes for care and choose a person who can speak for you if needed.

It’s easy to feel invincible when you’re 18 years old, but accidents can happen to anyone, and it’s important to be prepared,” said Penney Dupee, an advance care planning coordinator at Marshfield Clinic. “I suggest beginning to talk about these issues at the start of a student’s senior year in high school.”

Dupee said health care providers can help answer questions about advance care planning in order to complete an advance directive.

“We want young adults to be thinking about if they’ve had any experiences with a friend or family member who had an injury or illness and couldn’t speak for themselves. What would you want in a similar situation?” Dupee said. “We help young adults explore what living well means to them. This helps them think about what they would want in a potentially serious medical situation where they couldn’t communicate.”

Complete an advance directive

Having an advance directive is preparation for the unexpected. Everyone over 18 should complete one. To start the process or for more information, visit Marshfield Clinic’s advance care planning page.

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