During the holidays you may have noticed how your relatives have aged and couldn’t help but reflect on your own genetics.

Face it. At some point you’ll have to ask your “first degree” relatives – those who share half of your genetic information like siblings and parents (and offspring) — embarrassing questions. The holidays might have been an awkward time for difficult conversations. But be resolved to ask genetic questions in 2023. They are intertwined with financial and retirement planning in ways that may not have occurred to you.

Knowing your relatives’ health conditions will help prevent expensive and debilitating conditions and the knowledge will help you plan, including financial planning, for future conditions you are likely to develop.

Family Health Trees

I am talking about the importance of knowing your family health tree. According to one study about 40% of your health needs are predetermined by your genes in a complex interaction with your environment. And almost 60% of monthly health spending can be predicted by genetic and environmental factors.

Another way to gauge the importance of genes and behavior is Dr. Jamie Sharp’s – Medicare Chief Medical Officer at Aetna, owned by CVS Health — rough “1-2-3-4 rule” which helps people understand what determines their health. According to Dr. Sharp’s rule: 10% of your health is determined by the quality of your health care; 20% from your genes; 30% to your social environment, including exposures that “turn on” genes (called epigenetic phenomenon); and 40% of your health is determined by your behaviors. Certainly, not everything is genes, but a substantial portion of some conditions are preventable or needs to be anticipated.

Certain cancers, studies show — for example, breast, ovarian, and colon — have strong genetic components; but some don’t, like cervical cancer. And did you know that having parents with premature heart disease can put you at 60% to 75% higher risk of future cardiovascular disease? Cardiovascular disease is a class of diseases that include angina, heart attacks, heart failure, strokes. You get the picture.

Cardiovascular disease responds well to lifestyle changes. Predisposition to diabetes and metabolic disorder is also highly inheritable. Diabetes causes further diseases which can be quite expensive, and fortunately also receptive to changes in health behaviors.

It is important to know which family members have or have had any chronic diseases and at what age they developed these diseases. Dr. Sharp said, “Knowing whether the onset of illness occurred earlier or later in life can influence additional preventive measures.”

Prompts For Your Difficult Family Conversation

My Family Health Portrait is a free, web-based tool that helps organize health history information you can easily share with your family and doctor. Here are prompts to use in those difficult family conversations. Ask your relatives if they:

1. Have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

2. Have they had cancer or a stroke? Crucially, ask what type of cancer.

3. How old were they when each of these diseases or health conditions was diagnosed?

4. What is your family’s ancestry; what regions did your ancestors come from?

5. What is the cognitive health of your parents and grandparents?

6. What were the causes and ages of death for relatives who have died?

I get it. It is hard to imagine asking parents, grandparents and siblings these personal questions. But the information is worth getting for your doctor and it may give you “motivating fear” to moderate and change behavior and get necessary screenings.

Happy financial planning to you and I wish you a healthy 2023.

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