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

QUESTION: I'm concerned my parents have become too inactive in their later years. What can I do to get them more involved? Linda in Illinois, 59

ANSWER: Many elderly do become less active and involved with their family and in their community over time. It's your job as a care giver to not let that happen. Start with their diet. Make sure they are eating nutritious foods that provide them with energy. With the approval of their doctor, encourage exercise at least 3 times a week. The body was meant to be moved. A short neighborhood walk will do wonders for their spirit and blood flow.

Creativity works magic for the elderly, in whatever form it manifests itself. Be it singing, painting, playing an instrument, dancing, or writing poetry, a journal, or a novel, creativity keeps an individual involved in the here and now. Getting in touch with their creative self allows your parents to stay connected to the wonders of life. They might even draw on creative impulses and abilities they never knew they had, or never had the time to nurture. I guarantee they will be in better spirits and enjoy improved mental acuity. They will have a better appetite, and be more social.

Also encourage them to stay in touch with family and friends. Make sure they are comfortable using a computer. Show them how to log on and off, and how to access the internet and email. Write it out step by step and go over the instructions in person. Turn any fear of the computer into a bonding exercise. If they are having a hard time understanding basic computer or internet jargon, use their words and make sure they are clear about what you have taught them.

Get support from your surrounding community support systems such as religious groups, senior centers, the Veterans Administration, Shriners, Kiwanis club, Elks club, and other volunteer groups in your local area. There are even services that will call your elder for a few minutes every day just to shoot the breeze and let them know someone is thinking about them. Before you contact these community groups, have a clear idea of exactly how you'd like your elder to benefit. You'd be surprised how many meals on wheels, public transportation options, and bingo games are available for your elder once you tap into the network. Also, don't hesitate to scour your local paper for various senior group announcements and services.

Include them in family holiday celebrations. Bring them along to Halloween, the 4th of July, etc. Any activity outside of their daily norm gives your elder something to talk about, something to look forward to, something that will make them feel alive and useful.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.