Sure, genealogy and ancestry topics can be fun to discuss with fellow amateur historians in Manchester and elsewhere. But not everyone knows that these discussions can have some bearing on possible future health conditions, including if or when you might need end of life care.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Care and Hospice sometimes run into patients who don’t know much about their family medical history or why it’s important that they know or at least have access to this info. We’re always happy to talk to them about this topic and encourage them to try to find out more about their past, even if they don’t have a lot of clues to go on initially.
Basically, knowing whether certain health conditions are common or rare in your genetics can be a good guide to let you know what possibilities to prepare for. For example, someone with a history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease in their family may want to take some steps early on to eat better and exercise more to reduce the overall risk along with
This type of information can also be useful not just for your health but for family planning. If any members of your extended family are prone to certain conditions, such as cancer, then there’s a higher possibility of your children having it as well, even if you haven’t had it yourself.
There are also some genetic conditions that are more common to certain ethnicities that people may not realize so it helps to be aware of the possibility that you or other family members may have it as well.
The National Institutes for Health suggests that everyone create a family health history. This should include direct family members, like genetic brothers, sisters, and parents. But it also should include three generations of relatives including uncles and aunts and their children, as well as both sets of grandparents and their siblings.
These can all be used to identify health patterns and if there are higher occurrences of certain conditions in some family lines. This can include certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, even some mental health conditions or susceptibility to certain conditions like migraine headaches.
These all can be embedded in different parts of your genetic code – you may not get them yourself but other family members might or vice versa.
Many of these can be due to mutations in your family’s code that you may not be aware of. This could be everything from certain environmental conditions in the locations where your family lived in past generations. Or it could be due to exposure to other toxins that family members may have experienced, such as Agent Orange or other chemicals in the military.
All of this information is useful and should be shared, especially if it can help your health and your family’s awareness: the Centers for Disease Control phrases it as “knowing is only part of it: you need to use this information.”
For instance, during a mammogram, colonoscopy or other routine cancer screening, knowing something about one’s family history may be useful, such as if other people have had these types of cancers, when they had them, what treatment they had and their outcome.
Certainly, there are better health practices everyone should follow, regardless of family health history. For instance, eating well and exercising regularly are smart ideas everyone should be doing. Stopping smoking is also a smart idea, whether you have family members who have suffered from various breathing problems or smoking-related cancers, or no one has had this particular condition.
How to find the information
While having access to this type of information is easy for people with close families, there could certainly be challenges for those with different family circumstances. For instance, someone who is adopted may not have easy access to their genetic history. Or extended families that include step- and half-siblings may not sure where to start gathering this information.
Some detective work may be involved which could require learning some of your family roots. It might involve actual genealogical research such as finding information about grandparents and their generations. If they are deceased their death certificates may share a cause of death that may be related to their health.
Or if they are still alive they may be willing to share their health history or authorize their provider to share it.
Adoption agencies also may be willing to share information especially if it’s related to something critical like cancer risk or family planning. Depending on their policies they may contact the birth family or provide their information.
Some genetic programs like Ancestry.com or Familytree.com may also provide information about someone’s heritage.
There’s never a bad time to explore and develop your genetic history, but this month is especially recommended.
Nov. 28, which is Thanksgiving this year, has also been designated as National Family History Day. It’s an occasion when you can start work on or continue past efforts to put together a solid guide to your family’s health. If your family gathers for Thanksgiving, you can ask them directly, or at least for their memories of other relations.