Finding the whole person disguised as a patient

Over the last twenty years, a new approach to healthcare called integrative medicine has focused attention on understanding and treating the “whole person.”  This means that psychological and spiritual factors as well as physical bodies needed to be included in the care of patients.

This integrative approach added new questions to the health history conversation, ones that would give providers a better sense of the patient as a person.  They did this by focusing on important relationships, pivotal life events and lifestyle.  None of these questions replaced and of the questions of the conventional medical history.  Rather, they augmented its depth, scope and insights.

Below is a sampling of whole-person questions that caregivers may find useful in the following ways:

  1. Providing caregivers with new insights about the “context” of an aging parent’s health issues.
  1. Providing caregivers with new insights about an aging parent’s perspective, behavior and priorities.
  1. Providing caregivers with a new opportunity to explore their own whole person “context”and use the findings to update strategies, goals and expectations for role that have undertaken in the family.


Whole Person Questions


  • What have been the pivotal events of your life?
  • What are your roots?
  • What are important features of your background?


  • Who do you consider to be your family?
  • Is it your family of origin?
  • Is it a family constructed from other sources?


  • What is the quality of your relationship with your parents?
  • What is the quality of your relationship with your siblings
  • How deeply are involved involved in each other’s lives?
  • Has an illness of theirs affected you?


  • Is there a significant person in your life?
  • Do you do activities together?
  • Do you feel supported?


  • What is the quality of your relationship with you children?
  • How involved are you in their daily lives?
  • Would you like that to change?


  • What do your friendships mean to you?
  • How do you acknowledge them?
  • What would your family and friends say they adore about you?


  • How are you defined by your job?
  • Is your job an expression of who you are?
  • If not, what would you like to be doing?


  • What is the quality of your current lifestyle?
  • What is the focus of your current lifestyle?
  • What time of day or what activities make you feel energized?
  • What time of day or what activities make you fell depleted?
  • What do you do at those times? Nap? Eat?
  • Are you satisfied with your level of energy or do you feel yourself dragging?


  • Do you sleep well?
  • Do you wake up ready to go?


  • What is your relationship with your body?
  • Does the work “exercise” make you cringe or feel guilty
  • Do you exercise regularly?
  • Do you enjoy it?
  • Do you hike, garden, or play sports?
  • How has your exercise activity benefited you?


  • What is your relationship with food?
  • Do you graze throughout the day?
  • Do you eat defined meals?
  • Who prepared your food?
  • Do you eat only when you are hungry?
  • When you eat, what part of you are you feeding
  • Are you conscious what you crave?
  • Do you share meals with someone?


  • What are the sources of stress in your life?
  • Are they financial or job-related or in your family?
  • Where do you find your strength during difficult times?
  • What are your coping mechanisms or strategies or practices to get you through the stress?
  • How do you relax?
  • How do you recharge?
  • Do you meditate, breathe deeply, exercise, or watch TV?
  • Do you take time regularly to recharge?
  • What gives you hope about the future?


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