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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 57 (2015) 9, 656 - 663

Review article

Therapy for elderly family members and couples: concerning the viability of relationships in later life, the role reversal and ‘finishing’ amicably

L. Van Assche, L. van de Ven, P. Rober, P. Persoons, M. Vandenbulcke

background Research shows that in most countries the number of elderly persons is increasing and that close relationships in late life are playing a more important role. Therefore, it is surprising that there have been so few publications about family therapy for the elderly.
aim To formulate some guidelines for psychotherapy for family members in their later years and to make suggestions regarding further research.
method We summarise the existing literature and focus on important themes about working with the elderly, supplementing major issues with our own clinical experience.
results Family therapy with the elderly differs from therapy for younger adults in some respects; for instance, the emphasis in the case of the elderly is more on strengthening the viability of a long/standing relationship. The reversal of roles that often accompanies the ageing process and leads to increasing dependency is another factor that affects the elderly more than the younger adults. If the last stage of life is to finish calmly and amicably, therapists need to tackle any tensions or injustices that patients have experienced in the course of their relationships.
conclusion Psychotherapy for the elderly needs to provide clients with constant opportunities for reflection and should initiate discussions about partners' experiences of tensions and injustices in their earlier relationship. However, the increasing number of elderly persons means that more empirical research needs to be done into systematic psychotherapy.

keywords couple, family, late life, systemic psychotherapy