Documenting your family’s medical history benefits current and future generations

Right at Home John Headshot (2) (Small)By John Baldwin FLT News Columnist – Mrs. Bender stared at her doctor’s framed medical diploma while trying to recall her parents’ health issues. “Well, that’s all in the past,” she stammered. Not one to seek medical help over the years and now age 81, Mrs. Bender struggled to piece together her own medical history, let alone her parents’. “I think my dad had hives, or was that high blood pressure?”

A family medical history, or sometimes called a medical family tree, is not just several more forms for you to fill out when you visit a doctor. You inherit half your genetic makeup from each parent, blending their disease history into your own genes. A family health history can pinpoint patterns in disease that may be relevant to your health today. While a medical family tree does not predict your future health, it can help determine your risk for certain conditions and illnesses. A family health history can help determine if you, your children or grandchildren are susceptible to hereditary conditions including diabetes, cancer and heart disease, or genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia and Down’s syndrome.

Medical providers, from primary care doctors and specialists to dentists and chiropractors, use medical histories to help determine the need and frequency for:

  • Assessing disease risk.
  • Specific treatments.
  • Screenings and diagnostic tests.
  • Medications that better match individual genetics.
  • Changes in diet or lifestyle.
  • Identifying disease risk in other family members.Family gatherings and reunions can be a natural situation to discuss a family medical history with blood relatives. Since 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General has annually declared Thanksgiving as National Family Health History Day. The website offers a secure My Family Health Portrait tool to help families create a personalized medical history. The American Medical Association also presents a number of resources including prenatal to adult medical history questionnaires and pamphlets to assist both patients and healthcare providers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also answers common questions about medical history and how to obtain information if you are adopted and don’t know your biological family’s health background.
  • A thorough medical health tree covers at least three generations, including grandparents, parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins. Basic details for each family member should include sex, age, date of birth, ethnicity and ancestor’s country of origin. Sample questions are:
  • We work with seniors and their families every day, and one of the greatest advantages of documenting one’s medical history is so the whole family can enjoy longer, healthier lives. Our caregivers often help older adults think through and write down their medical histories. This can be as simple as sitting down with the senior and looking through photos of older relatives to jog their memory of their parents’ or grandparents’ health issues.
  • Do you have any chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure?
  • Have you ever had a serious illness such as cancer or stroke?
  • Has anyone in the family had chronic health conditions?
  • At what age did your parents or grandparents die? What were their causes of death?Do respect confidentiality and give the compiled medical information only to your doctors and to other family members so they can share the history notes with their own medical providers. Be sure to save the medical history information so you can update it over time and when new children arrive in the family or someone passes. Keeping the medical family tree backed up on your computer may be the easiest way to revise and store the valuable information for generations to come, and someday prevent even you wondering if your dad had hives or high blood pressure … or both.
  • The Perrysburg office of Right at Home is a locally owned and operated franchise office of Right at Home, Inc., serving the communities of Wood, Lucas and Sandusky counties. For more information, contact Right at Home of Perrysburg, Ohio at, 567-336-6062, or by email at
  • Some family members may be hesitant to disclose their personal health details. If you encounter relatives who are uncomfortable discussing their medical information, you may try a relaxed, private conversation or share questions by phone, email or mail.