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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My family is having problems with my brother's wife. They have been married about eight years, and my brother seems like a different person today.

Before marrying, "Eric" was a nice and compliant person. When the family got together on something, he would always participate. Our mother was particularly fond of Eric, as he would accompany her to concerts or church since my father did not like to go to these events. Eric never argued or spoke up to any of us, but now he has an opinion on everything and lets it be known. He used to always put his family first, but now he favors his wife and children.

Eric has told us that he has been seeing a counselor for a long time. He has invited all of us to join him, but we don't believe in that sort of thing. We all know Eric would have never started seeing a counselor if it weren't for his wife. Our parents are especially devastated that Eric has changed so much.

What can we do to stop his wife and get our old Eric back? -- HANK IN TACOMA, WASH.

DEAR HANK: There is nothing you can do. And please don't blame Eric's wife for the change in his personality. She could only encourage her husband to seek counseling. The rest was up to him.

Face it, Eric has slipped his chain. Perhaps he has taken to heart what he learned in counseling and is, in fact, doing very well. Once passive "people pleasers" learn to assert themselves, it's unlikely that they will go back to being the way they were. The rest of you will have to adjust.

DEAR ABBY: We buried my uncle yesterday, and several people said to my aunt, "I'll stop by and see you soon." I know how easy it is to make such promises when caught up in the moment, and I hope at least a couple of those people follow through.

I live 75 miles away and can't spend as much time with my aunt as I'd like. They used to have a very active social life, but as dementia took the sparkle from their conversations, my aunt and uncle were relegated more and more to the company of the health aides who have cared for them around the clock. Few of their old friends drop in.

I know it is difficult for people to make time, especially for less pleasant things like a conversation with someone who isn't the same scintillating person they used to know. But it is so good for the person to continue to have interaction with others, and it's just plain cheering to see a different face for a few minutes.

I don't want to preach, but I hope my letter will inspire a few people to spend half an hour with friends or relatives who could use a bright spot in their day. Even if their minds don't remember it, their hearts will. -- NIECE IN TROY, N.Y.

DEAR NIECE: You have written an eloquent letter. When people age, their friends begin to die and their list of social contacts grows shorter. It then becomes the responsibility of nuclear and extended family to make sure older people don't become completely isolated.

There are many ways to entertain older people who suffer from age-related memory loss: preparing and bringing over a favorite meal or dish, a cassette of music from their generation that might lift the spirits and stimulate the memory, a short drive in a familiar neighborhood.

A companion pet can provide a special kind of love, not to mention entertainment. However, one should not be given unless the giver is absolutely sure it can be properly cared for and looked after.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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