Mrs. Bender stared at her doctor’s framed medical diploma while trying to recall her parents’ health issues. “Well, that’s all in the past,” she stammered. Not one to seek medical help over the years and now age 81, Mrs. Bender struggled to piece together her own medical history, let alone her parents’. “I think my dad had hives, or was that high blood pressure?”
A family medical history, or sometimes called a medical family tree, is not just several more forms for you to fill out when you visit a doctor. You inherit half your genetic makeup from each parent, blending their disease history into your own genes. While a medical family tree does not predict your future health, it can help determine your risk for certain conditions and illnesses. A family health history can help determine if you, your children or grandchildren are susceptible to hereditary conditions including diabetes, cancer and heart disease, or genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia and Down’s syndrome.
Medical providers, from primary care doctors and specialists to dentists and chiropractors, use medical histories to help determine the need and frequency for:
-Assessing disease risk.
-Screenings and diagnostic tests.
-Medications that better match individual genetics.
-Changes in diet or lifestyle.
-Identifying disease risk in other family members.
"We work with seniors and their families every day, and one of the greatest advantages of documenting one’s medical history is so the whole family can enjoy longer, healthier lives,” explains Charles Williams, President and General Manager of Right at Home of Ann Arbor. “Our Ann Arbor home healthcare professionals often help older adults think through and write down their medical histories. This can be as simple as sitting down with the senior and looking through photos of older relatives to jog their memory of their parents’ or grandparents’
Family gatherings and reunions can be a natural situation to discuss a family medical history with blood relatives. The Surgeon General website offers a secure My Family Health Portrait tool to help families create a personalized medical history (surgeongeneral.gov/
A thorough medical health tree covers at least three generations, including grandparents, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins. Basic details for each family member should include sex, age, date of birth, ethnicity and ancestor’s country of origin. Sample questions are:
-Do you have any chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure?
-Have you ever had a serious illness such as cancer or stroke?
-Has anyone in the family had chronic health conditions?
-At what age did your parents or grandparents die? What were their causes of death?
Williams notes that some family members may be hesitant to disclose their personal health details. “If you encounter relatives who are uncomfortable discussing their medical information, you may try a relaxed, private conversation or share questions by phone, email or mail,” adds Williams.
Do respect confidentiality and give the compiled medical information only to your doctors and to other family members so they can share the history notes with their own medical providers. Be sure to save the medical history information so you can update it over time and when new children arrive in the family or someone passes. Keeping the medical family tree backed up on your computer may be the easiest way to revise and store the valuable information for generations to come, and someday prevent even you from wondering if your dad had hives or high blood pressure … or both.
About Right at Home
Founded in 1995, Right at Home offers home healthcare and companionship to the elderly and disabled adults who want to continue to live independently. Local Right at Home offices are independently owned and operated and directly employ and supervise all caregiving staff, each of whom is thoroughly screened, trained, bonded and insured prior to entering a client’s home. Right at Home’s global office is based in Omaha, Nebraska, with franchise offices located in 42 states nationwide and throughout the world. For more information on Right at Home, read the Right at Home caregiving blog at http://www.rightathome.net/
About Right at Home of Ann Arbor
The Ann Arbor Michigan office of Right at Home is a locally owned and operated franchise office of Right at Home, Inc., providing home healthcare to the communities of Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, Belleville, Plymouth, Chelsea, Dearborn, Canton, Dexter, and beyond. For more information, contact Right at Home of Ann Arbor at http://www.rightathome.net/