NORMAN — Dear Savvy Senior, What can you tell me about creating a family health history? My doctor recently suggested that I make one as a way to predict potential health problems as I get older, but I could use some help.
— Getting Old
It’s a smart idea. Even with all the high-tech medical tests and procedures that are available today, an accurate family health history remains one of the most important tools in keeping yourself healthy as you age. Here’s what you should know, along with some tips and tools to help get you started.
Inheritable diseases: Just as you can inherit your father’s height or your mother’s eye color, you also can inherit their genetic risk for diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and more. If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, for example, it is not unusual for the next generation to have it, too.
Therefore, tracing the illnesses suffered by your relatives can help you and your doctor predict the disorders you may be at risk for, so you can take action to keep yourself healthy.
Family tracking: To create a family health history, you’ll need to start by collecting some basic medical information on your first-degree relatives, including your parents, siblings and children. Then move on to your grandparents, aunts, uncles and first cousins.
You need to get the specific ages of when they developed health problems like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, dementia, depression, etc. If family members are deceased, you need to know when and how they died. If possible, include lifestyle information as well, such as diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol use.
Some relatives may not want to share their medical histories or they may not know their family history, but whatever information you discover will be helpful.