Sometimes the topic of health can feel like the elephant in the room, especially around the family. Reminders to go to the dentist every six months, or to always get a yearly check-up at the physician—it all tends to feel like nagging after a while. And talking about sensitive topics like reproductive health, caregiving, and how to handle death can be downright uncomfortable. So, what do we do instead?
Avoid these topics completely, of course!
But sharing knowledge, establishing expectations, and having a plan can be crucial to properly managing all the health issues that might crop up in a family along the way. Though it won’t always be easy or comfortable, there are certain topics that every family should discuss, and there are some good strategies that can help any family discuss these matters in a productive way.
The benefits are there. By making health a family discussion you can:
- Soften the topic by creating a welcoming environment that encourages transparency and honesty.
- Keep the family informed about the health concerns currently facing immediate family members, and to prepare for unexpected or major health events. Maybe grandpa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, or grandma has been hospitalized—how do we talk to the kids about it?
- Educate younger family members so they’re prepared as they grow up and face the same issues themselves (and give them the right tools to avoid common pitfalls).
4 TIPS FOR DISCUSSING HEALTH WITH THE FAMILY
- Start with family health history. Even though certain topics and conditions might seem like common knowledge, it’s better to assume they are not. You can avoid a lot of confusion by simply starting from the ground up. Are there certain things that run in the family? Certain risk factors that need to be discussed? If mom or dad has had colon cancer, for example, the children might need to go in for a colonoscopy a bit earlier.
- Go over the basics. Establish expectations around common health-related items. How often should we go in for check-ups? Physicals? Tooth cleanings? Establish these benchmarks as family benchmarks and you’ll enjoy better awareness and encourage adherence.
- Be honest and upfront. Avoiding topics because they are awkward or uncomfortable can create issues in the long-run. Instead, research a good approach to these topics and answer questions honestly. When it comes to health issues, a little transparency can go a long way. And remember: it’s more effective to inform, not scare.
- Plan. People age and people pass on—this is a fact of life. It’s important, then, to go over things like living wills, who calls the shots if someone should be incapacitated, and after-death wishes. How will the family financially and logistically manage a situation in which a family member needs long-term care? It’s important to have a plan.
As you move into the new year, we encourage you to make the topic of health an open and welcome family discussion. Establishing expectations and keeping everyone informed engenders confidence, comfort, and a commitment to being open and honest. These tips and strategies can even be used to promote a culture of health and wellness beyond the family in places like offices, social environments, and physical therapy clinics.
So, here’s to a happier and healthier year!