Senior Living Q & A: Writing a history for long-term health Nancy Turney

Q. My doctor suggested I write a family health history but I don’t really know what that means. Can you explain it?

A family health history is a written record of a family's health. The history contains information about a family's medical conditions, lifestyle habits (for example, whether anyone in the family has smoked), and where and how family members grew up. It's like a family tree for health.

You can use a family health history to see if you, your children or your grandchildren might face an increased risk of developing serious health problems. These health problems might be common ones, such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes. They could also be less common diseases that are passed from one generation to the next, such as hemophilia or sickle cell anemia.

Many diseases result from a combination of a person's genes, lifestyle and environment. People can't change the genes they inherit from their parents. But they can change things like diet, physical activity and medical care to try to prevent diseases that run in the family.

A health-care professional can use a family health history to help assess a person's risk of certain diseases. The professional might recommend actions to reduce the chance of getting those diseases.

Actions to reduce the risk of disease may involve lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier foods or exercising more, getting certain medical tests or taking new medicines.

For example, a son who is at risk of developing diabetes might be told to lose weight and exercise more. A daughter who is considering having a baby might get tested to see if she carries a gene for a rare condition that runs in the family.

For older adults, a family health history might help explain why you have developed certain health conditions. But it is important to know that simply getting older increases the risk of many diseases, too.

A guide to creating a family health history can be found at

Creating and sharing your family health history with your health-care professional can help you be healthier. But perhaps the biggest benefit involves providing information that may help your children and grandchildren live longer, healthier lives.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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