, Salem, MA


December 29, 2012

Column: The gift of a family conversation

Families, no matter what shape, size or relation, often gather together in the holiday season to share gifts, customs and traditions unique to their homes. In some families, chaos abounds with the unwrapping of gifts and the noise of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. In others, the mood is more peaceful or even somber as loved ones who have passed on are remembered and missed. In our perfectly imperfect families, wouldn’t it be nice if there were no conflict, no depression, no drunken relatives and no stress about money or other matters that always seems to crop up over the holidays? Often though, the stressors and the emotions of this time of year get the best of us.

Most families can actually predict what topics of conversation will trigger the “fight-or-flight” response in their loved ones. Some will fight, argue and get angry and some will flee into withdrawal, one too many drinks or attempts to diffuse the situation with humor or cajoling. In the older adult population, the fight-or-flight response is often set off when a family member raises the question with their aging parent about moving to assisted living, giving up the car keys or some other perceived threat to their independence. There is no doubt these conversations are difficult for both the initiator and the receiver; it’s understandable when these delicate conversations turn into a family argument.

As the director of the Beverly Council on Aging and Senior Community Center, I am an advocate of finding a way to have “the talk” with our older parents, relatives or neighbors. In the past year, we have identified many vulnerable, frail elders in our community living in substandard situations. Often they are choosing to live in this manner because they have not made a plan, don’t have the resources, have some memory loss or simply no longer have the vigor to make and adapt to change. Some even view their adult children as the foe and remain steadfast in their unwillingness to alter their situation. In many cases through active communication and support, a solution can be found that is best for the family and the elder. Sharing your concerns with your loved one is often the catalyst for moving forward.

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