Can We Talk: Family Health History – Part 2

Hi guys! So this is Part 2 in the Can We Talk series. In the first post, we talked about how to start a conversation with your family about family health. If you haven’t checked out Part 1, read it here! This particular post will focus the actual meat of the conversation. Like I mentioned in Part 1 – we will talk about mental health and having effective conversations about the that soon. But I’m saving that for a separate post so we can really go in depth on the topic. So on with the questions!

  1. Ask about the relatives you do not know. Both of my grandfathers are deceased. One of them I knew very well, but  I never knew the second one. I know that I am not the only person who has a similar story. This is a good time to ask about the grandpas and grandmas and aunts and uncles that you have never met. You can ask about their health directly, but a lot of information can be gleaned just from stories. And story telling is way easier on the stomach than some of the heavy duty conversations.
  2. Ask about sicknesses you know/heard about in your family. I’m sure there are some health challenges that you already know exist in your family. So if your aunt had a heart attack or if your dad has high cholesterol, try to ask questions that give you clarity about what that specifically means for them. Questions like, “when did X start?” or “Does Auntie just have X or do you think Uncle has it too?” It’s also not a bad idea to do some basic Googling. I’m not advocating for diagnosing yourself – thats a health care professional’s job. But just like you Google quick questions for basic knowledge, you can do the same here.
  3. Ask how often they go to the doctor/emergency room/urgent care. Now this is a touchy one. Seeing the current state of healthcare in this country, everyone doesn’t just go to the doctor. Shoot, I use my local urgent care all the time because I am between doctors. But – it’s important to get an idea of how much of your family’s health is being managed on their own. It can also give you an idea of if they are managing on their own by choice or by circumstance.
  4. If/when they go to the doctor, what do the doctors say about their health. This a pretty self-explanatory question. You want to get an idea of where your family’s health currently is. Blood pressure, diabetes, anemia, predisposition to other diseases. – all of the general information a doctor can give you.
  5. Medications – what they are being prescribed, taking, or not taking. This is also a good time to find out what medications your folks are currently using or have been prescribed. This is obviously sensitive cause they may not want you to know what they are taking (or not taking!). But it is important to just put it out there and see where the conversation can go. Its valuable information to have on hand. Don’t forget to ask about the side effects!
  6. What kind of health paperwork does your family have on hand. Its important to know what kind of paperwork your family is working with. For example – my mom is the queen of copying. We have copies of literally every medical visit for a scraped knee since the 90s. But if thats not your story cause you aren’t my mother or if your family had extenuating circumstances (i.e. fire, flood, lost while moving) this is a great time to figure out where you and your family stands. So, do your parents have insurance? Shoot – do YOU have insurance? Paper documentation of vaccinations? Copies of medical records? Advance Directives? If you do have it – Great! If you don’t have this information, now you know in advance and can actually get a handle on it before an emergency.
  7. Listen, Listen, Listen! Granted this is a list of questions to ask, but I think it is just as important to really listen during these conversations. You are asking your family for information because they know a bit more than you. Seeking knowledge requires an open heart, mind, and ears.

Of course ya’ll are free to embellish or streamline this list – these are just suggestions. Just like any conversation, once it starts to move, questions and comments will happen organically. And again –  this isn’t usually a one time conversation. You may have to pick it up a few times. But I hope you liked the series and good luck with your family chats. Candid conversation and communication are the keys to growth and progress.

Good luck,

The Neighborhood Bioethicist

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