Four Tips for Talking to Relatives About Medical History

At Thanksgiving, families gather and talk about the present and the past. This chance to revisit family history also offers a chance to collectively talk about your family health history. November 24th isn’t just Thanksgiving Day; it’s also National Family Health History Day

A family health history can be an invaluable tool for managing your own health and knowing about conditions that may run in families. While medical topics can be a sensitive area for some people, the holiday offers you and your family a unique opportunity to document your health history. So we’ve gathered a few tips to get you started.

  1. When it comes to health, it’s personal

Keep in mind that medical history can be personal. Start by talking to relatives in your immediate family or others that you know well. Be respectful of their privacy, don’t ask them to share information if they do not feel comfortable. If you connect with new relatives as a result of discovering unexpected family relationships, it may require patience. Part of building a connection with newly discovered family is balancing openness and respect for personal decisions and privacy. 

Take advantage of family gatherings

Holidays, celebrations, reunions, and other family gatherings are a great time to connect with family members. Try introducing the general idea of putting together a detailed family health history record, and explain why you are asking the questions. Consider setting up time to speak to family members individually to help protect more sensitive information.

  1. Talk to your elders

The older generations of your family are often the ones who knew relatives who have since passed, and the keeper of that family history. Be sure to let them tell their story and ask follow up questions. Sometimes telling a story out loud can help someone remember important details.

  1. Write it down

A lot of medical conditions sound the same. Don’t expect to remember everything – be sure to write down what you learn, and keep track of the information in a safe place. You can even record the conversation with an audio recorder or voice memo apps. The US Surgeon General has a tool to help you record Family Health History called “My Family Health Portrait.”

  1. Identify a family historian

You might be comfortable being a family historian and asking relatives for details about their lives. Or you might be like many others and know nothing at all. Try designating one person in the family to collect and share health information with other family members. If that person ends up being someone other than you, share the tips above with them! 

You’ve gathered the family health history. Now what? Read more about putting your family health history to work.

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