One thing that every genealogist does is put together a family tree. Not all genealogists create a medical family tree, but they should! A medical family tree makes it clear what illnesses “run in the family”. The thought of having a family discussion about health related issue may seem intimidating. It can be made manageable, and relatively stress free, if you follow these tips.
Not everyone is comfortable talking about their health problems. People sometimes feel shame about symptoms, or fear that others will judge them for having the health issues that they have developed. If you make it clear why a medical family tree is so important, it might give people the courage to share information about their health, diagnosis, symptoms, and genetics.
Set a Date and Time
No one likes to be unexpectedly questioned about their personal health. It can feel intrusive. Instead of dropping these questions on relatives at dinner, set up a date and time for everyone to come together and talk about health issues that “run in the family”.
This gives your relatives the opportunity to collect medical histories, or to think about when certain symptoms started. Those who have had genetic testing done can bring the results with them. Planning ahead gives your relatives time to feel comfortable with the idea of talking about health issues that are typically whispered about – or not discussed at all.
Set the Rules
Start off this meeting with a clarification about what to expect. Make it clear that this is a “judgement free zone”. Remind everyone that the more a family knows about the diseases, conditions, and health issues that “run in the family”, the greater the likelihood that younger generations can avoid those problems. Younger generations will know what they should ask their doctor about.
List off the things you want to focus on. Tell everyone that they should share any genetic testing results they have, information on what they have been diagnosed with, and any other issues they feel “run in the family”. Start off the meeting by sharing your own health information with your relatives. Be a good example.
Make it Quick
Very few people enjoy being stuck at what feels like a “meeting”. This is especially true when the topic is something that can be uncomfortable or difficult to discuss. Plan for things to last 30 minutes to an hour. That should be enough time for everyone to quickly share information about their biggest health issues, without things turning into an interrogation.
If necessary, you can always set up another medical family tree meeting in the future. Give the relatives that attended and additional opportunity to share more. Include relatives who were not present the first time around. The result is that everyone will be more aware of symptoms to watch for and more empowered about managing their health.
Image by Dr. Farouk on Flickr.
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