The Aging Family: New Visions in Theory, Practice, and Reality

By Richman, Joseph | American Journal of Psychotherapy, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

The Aging Family: New Visions in Theory, Practice, and Reality


Richman, Joseph, American Journal of Psychotherapy


TERRY D. HARGRAVE, PH.D. AND SUZANNE MIDoRi HANNA, PH.D., EDS.: The Aging Family: New Visions in Theory, Practice, and Reality. Brunner/Mazel, New York: 1997, 338 pp., $39.95, ISBN 0-87630-841-8.

This edited book contains several well-written and informative chapters covering family issues in the theory and practice of gerontology. In any book, however, the organization as well as the content is important. The Aging Family sets the stage by beginning pessimistically. The prologue, "One Family's Struggle with Alzheimer's Disease," describes the despair and unsuccessful coping methods of a husband whose wife developed early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The husband was unprepared for the illness and, in addition, did not receive proper help and support. The result was a nightmare that ended mercifully with the death of the patient.

It is unfortunate that Hargrave and Hanna chose this account to open their work. Their prologue seems to reflect their own ambivalence, which also colors their chapter, wherein they emphasize the problems that the elderly present to their families and society, but not the benefits of their wisdom, knowledge, and sheer presence. They conclude that, "it is difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the prospects of doing therapy with an aging family."

Despair is the most destructive barrier to understanding and helping the aged and all those involved with them. Fortunately, in the chapters by other contributors, the despair is mixed with more positive attitudes. Three such chapters make this work worthwhile for those of us involved in psychotherapy. They are valuable sources on dealing with the problems of old age, and, occasionally, the pleasures of aging well.

A wonderful counterpoint to negative accounts of Alzheimer's is presented in "Alzheimer's Disease and the Family," by Janie Long, whose father died of the illness. It is elegant, thorough, and smoothly written. It gracefully summarizes the neurology, personality, and behavior changes in the patient, and the constructive implications for professional treatment. …

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