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The Abdication of King Edward VIII: a study of estrangement between an adult son and elderly mother
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  • Published on:
    response to letter re: The Abdication of King Edward VIII: a study of estrangement between and adult son and elderly mother
    • Robert C Abrams, Professor of Psychiatry Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, NY

    Dear Sir:
    I believe that the author of the letter has misread the aim and content of the article. I nowhere implied that the phenomenon of estrangement was limited to disconnections between older parents and their adult children. However, I chose to focus on that segment because of its unique characteristics, namely, the particular suffering of older estranged parents who, in addition to experiencing the expected adversities of aging, must acknowledge that the window of opportunity for reconciliation with their children is narrowing; nor did I state or suggest that loneliness was universally experienced by older people. The article was inspired by my interest in 20th-century British history and by the many examples of estrangement I have seen over the years in my clinical practice, which is concentrated on older patients. Also, I do agree that the term "elderly" has become freighted and rather pejorative, and I no longer use it in articles or other communication. Language always matters, but perceptions of specific words change markedly over time, and I consider it regrettable that such distractions have become overvalued in academic work. These considerations remain within the narrow province of theoretical gerontologists and reside entirely outside the concerns of frontline practitioners, of which I consider myself one.

    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    Ensuring congruence between medical humanities and medicine
    • Desmond O'Neill, Professor in Medical Gerontology Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin

    While this paper gives an eloquent description of discord between a mother and son, it is unfortunate that it attempts to characterize it as relating in particular to later life. There is no evidence in the gerontological literature that this is the case, and discord between adult children and their parent occurs and causes distress across the adult lifespan. In the single paper quoted as a reference, the investigators did not sample discord across the lifespan but only reviewed those dyads where the mother was aged 65-75 (1). This is a common failing of much gerontology, and in particular the literature on loneliness, whereby focusing on later life alone not only misses out on opportunities for considering loneliness across the lifespan but also inappropriately characterizes loneliness as a defining characteristic of later life (2).

    In cultural gerontology (3), just as in the medical humanities, it is important that due critical interrogation is given to congruence between the gerontological sciences and the humanistic inquiry, and indeed to appropriate terminology such as avoidance of the term 'elderly'(4).

    1. Gilligan M, Suitor JJ, Pillemer K. Estrangement between mothers and adult children: The role of norms and values. Journal of Marriage and Family. 2015;77:908-20.
    2. O'Neill D. Loneliness. Lancet. 2011;377:812.
    3. O'Neill D. Geriatric medicine and cultural gerontology. Age Ageing. 2015;44:353-5.

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.