QUESTION: Are there productive ways older people can remain mentally alert as their bodies age? Is mental decline inevitable in the golden years?
DR. DOBSON: If you live long enough, there will be some loss of intellectual acuity. There is, however, much that a person can do to postpone that deterioration. An article in Family Circle magazine suggested five ways to maintain healthy minds through the aging process.
The first rule is to ``use it or lose it.'' The human brain isn't like a calculator that you can plug in and leave idle for a year and find it working just as well when you return. It must have constant use and regular input of sensory information.
Second, proper brain function is dependent on a balanced diet, with ample supplies of all the essential nutrients.
Third is exercise. Every organ of the body benefits from physical activity, including the package of neural matter with which we think.
Fourth is regular physical examinations and good health care. Untreated disease processes can affect us physically and mentally.
Finally, the fifth way to keep our brains healthy is by having an active social life. Being sick, isolated and alone is a prescription for rapid mental decline.
Unfortunately, many older citizens are unable to implement these five suggestions for one reason or another. Some are alone and have no one to talk to. Others lack the resources for good medical care and healthy nutrition.
That's why those of us in the younger generation owe today's seniors our time and attention. They cared for us when we were frail and helpless. Now it's our time to return the favor.
QUESTION: Our 14-year-old recently came to my husband and me to say, ``I'm pregnant.'' Nothing ever has upset us more than hearing those words. What should our attitude toward her be now?
DR. DOBSON: Responding to a teenage pregnancy is one of the most difficult trials parents ever are asked to face. When the news breaks, it's reasonable to feel anger at the girl who has brought this humiliation and pain into her life. How dare this kid do something so stupid and hurtful to herself and the entire family.
Once you have caught your breath, however, a more rational and loving response is appropriate. This is no time for recrimination. Your daughter needs your understanding and wisdom now more than ever. She'll face many important decisions in the next few months, and you can't afford to alienate yourselves from her.
If you can summon a measure of strength and love at this stressful time, you should be able to create the bond that often develops between those who have survived a crisis together.
James Dobson is president of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home. Write to him in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.