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

QUESTION: My mother is still very healthy, but her appearance has gone down hill dramatically in the last year. Do you have any suggestions how I can help her? Jeannie in Alabama, 51

ANSWER: It has often been years since anyone paid attention to your elder's physical appearance, and a little bit of attention goes a long way. Bring her to the hairdresser. Give her a regular pedicure and manicure. If it's in the budget, a facial is a real treat. Make sure she has clothing that's appropriate for the various seasons. If she has outdated styles or incorrect sizes give them to a charity or throw them away, but be sure to ask her first.

Travel to a local mall or go online to shop for new clothes and shoes. Comfortable shoes at this stage of the game are a must. Buy her new makeup. I'm often shocked to find that many elder women have either run out of makeup or only have lipstick leftover from 1978. If you have a teen daughter, bring her along and make it a fun trip for three generations.

Buy your elder a hand mirror so she can look at herself. It really does have a positive effect if she's conscious of the way she looks. Buy her a new winter scarf. Polish her shoes. Buy her a new toothbrush. The little things make a big difference. Clean her wheelchair, walker, and/or cane.

Improper clothing often restricts your elder's movements. Her clothing must not be torn, or too tight or loose. When she sits down, the waistline must be flexible so it doesn't bind her. If she has a tough time keeping her pants up, sew little buttons on the inside or have her wear suspenders. If your elder has some sort of scar or bandage, provide her with non-binding clothes. I'm a big believer in Velcro, since it provides more flexibility and room. I also suggest buying shoes with Velcro straps instead of laces so it's easier to slip them on and off. If your elder has difficulty with motor control, teach her how to put on her own socks again so she can maintain some of her independence.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.