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Talking Turkey ... and Family History

Thanks to guest blogger, Lisa Alzo, for this article.

With the holidays approaching families will gather to enjoy turkey, Egg Nog, and tasty treats around the dining table, watch football and parades on TV, play games or just chat. While taking time for a conversation about your family's medical history will likely be the last thing on your mind during your Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanza celebrations, recording this information could be the best gift you can give to yourself, your relatives, and your descendants.

The U.S. Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day: “Encouraging Americans to share a meal and their family health history.” But, you can use any family time to record this important information. Here are five tips for incorporating a health history discussion into your family’s festivities.

1. Paint a portrait. Use your laptop or tablet computer to access the US Surgeon General's "My Family Health Portrait" online tool for collecting family health histories. Follow the instructions to save the information and print copies for your family members. If you prefer using an app, try Family Helix (free for iPhone, iPad, iPodTouch). For far-flung family members who can’t make it to the gathering, bring them in via Skype or you can even send them a family history health e-card!

2. Roll call. Record the names of close relatives from both sides of the family: parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Include conditions each relative has or had and at what age the conditions were first diagnosed. For relatives who are deceased, include the cause of death and the age at death.

3. Play Q&A. Here are some specific questions you can ask during your gathering.

  • Do you have any chronic diseases, such heart disease or diabetes, or health conditions (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol)?
  • Have you had any other serious diseases, such as cancer or stroke?
  • How old were you when you developed these diseases?
  • What is our family's ancestry – what country did they come from?
  • What diseases did your deceased relatives have?
  • How old were they when they died?
  • What caused their deaths?

4. Talk to your doctor. Share your family health history with your physicians. If you discover particular diseases that run in your family (e.g. cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, etc.) be sure to discuss any concerns and risk factors during your annual check up or next visit.

5. Review and update. Make it a point to review your health history information regularly (why not make it an annual tradition?) You or your relatives can be diagnosed with new conditions at any time, so be sure to share new information with your doctor(s) as necessary.

A family health history discussion may not sound like the most enjoyable activity you can engage in during holiday celebrations, but taking just a bit of time out to ask some questions and record family gatherings and record your family's health information, could make a difference in your child’s life, a relative’s, or even your own!

Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer who has been tracking her ancestors for more than 22 years. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series and can be contacted via http://www.lisaalzo.com.


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