By Stephanye R. Clarke
The holiday season is a time for reconnecting, over-sized dinners, laughing and… a conversation about family medical history.
The Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving National Family Health History Day in 2004. All sorts of conversations will be happening over the course of the next month, so at least one of them should include learning as much about the family’s health history as possible.
Someone newly diagnosed with diabetes might be unaware that there’s a family history if it has never been talked about. I wonder how many people are living with poorly-managed, or have passed away from chronic diseases because they were unaware of their risk.
I asked, on my Facebook page, whether or not anyone has these conversations. A good friend who happens to be an RN said, “Those things aren’t discussed in our culture… until it’s too late anyway.”
She has a point—across various racial/ethnic groups there are cultural beliefs and practices that frown upon these sorts of conversations. Sometimes there’s an additional intergenerational barrier—our elders don’t always (1) trust the health care system (2) make their own health a priority or (3) talk openly about the family’s medical history.
We all probably know of someone who passed away relatively young, after an acute battle with an either preventable or manageable chronic disease. It doesn’t have to stay that way, however. There are things we can do to help change this.
As a first step, we can all challenge the norm of not talking about the family’s health. Bring it up at the next family gathering—talk about who had what and for how long.
You can also create and save a family health history document using this link: https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/FHH/html/index.html and your family members can share the family history with their providers.
We should also encourage all family members to receive regular preventive screenings and care—this is how we shake the family trees, learn and get to enjoy more birthdays and holidays together.