By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: Ever since my father's health took a turn for the worse last year, my parents have not been getting along. And this is for the first time in their marriage. I've tried to talk to them, but it's not helping. How can I make a difference before it's too late? Fabian in Washington, 57

ANSWER: Some couples can enjoy a solid and supportive relationship for five decades, but when serious physical, mental, or emotional problems arise, the partnership can face very difficult times. As they age, many people have less capacity to deal with negative events and are suddenly unable to cope. Too many times, I've seen a marriage die, and it often hastens the death of the individuals involved.

When difficulties arise, a couple's level of intimacy decreases, and what has been a powerful bond can be broken. This makes the couple feel less connected, and each person can become lost and/or isolated. No matter what our age, the physical bond helps us deal with the external forces of the workplace and family. When that goes away, individuals feel very disconnected. Each can retreat into their own world at the time when they most need each other.

Most elderly are not from the "therapy" generation, so they'll suffer in silence or decide to "soldier on" when what they really need is help and support. The key is to open the lines of communication. This might require a third party such as a doctor, therapist, spiritual leader, or someone else who is mutually respected by both individuals. The truth of the matter is that we all need a helping hand in our lives, so encourage your parents to get just that.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.