DEAR ABBY: After a 10-year battle, I recently lost my husband to Alzheimer's disease. My darling was handsome, brilliant and athletic, a chemist and an avid golfer. Our family was confused and concerned when he began losing the ability to do simple tasks.

The progression of his illness was devastating physically, emotionally and financially. No one should have this disease, either as a person afflicted with it or as a caregiver who is helpless to intervene.

Alzheimer's disease is not the funny punch line of a joke that it has been made out to be. It's the seventh-leading cause of death in this country, yet it doesn't seem to get the attention that cancer, heart disease or even AIDS does. What can I do to ensure that Alzheimer's won't affect my children and grandchildren?

"" ELIZABETH IN DALLAS

DEAR ELIZABETH: Please accept my deepest sympathy for your loss. Alzheimer's disease has been called "the long goodbye" with good reason. Your concerns are echoed by the families of the more than 5 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer's and the nearly 10 million people who are providing their care. If something isn't done about it now, an estimated 16 million people will have it by the year 2050.

I applaud your determination to get involved. Sept. 21 is World Alzheimer's Day, and I hope that you &

and others &

will join the Alzheimer's Association by becoming an Alzheimer's Champion, as I have. To learn more about the disease and how you can take steps to join the fight, visit .

DEAR ABBY: I'm an active, 31-year-old woman. I exercise regularly, play tennis and walk to work instead of driving. As a result, I have developed an athletic physique. According to my doctor, my height and weight proportions are ideal for someone who exercises regularly, and my muscle/fat ratio is healthy.

My problem is my mother. She stands 5-foot-5 (the same height as me) and weighs all of 95 pounds. She raised me to accept myself the way I am and not to change my appearance just because others want me to.

In spite of this, she constantly belittles me about my appearance with comments such as, "Oh, you would look so much better if you'd lose 15 pounds," or, "Oh, maybe you should eat a little healthier &

you've put on weight." The mass in question is muscle, not fat. I had this checked by my doctor, who assured me that I have a healthy build. I have tried explaining to my mother that my build is the result of muscle as well as genetics, but she won't stop.

I have tried ignoring her comments, contradicting them with medical evidence, even saying that her comments negate the way she raised me, but she continues anyway. What more can I do to stop this? She's chipping away at my self-esteem.

"" ATHLETIC IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

DEAR ATHLETIC: Perhaps the reason your mother is preoccupied with your weight is because she's obsessed about her own. At 5-foot-5 inches, she's seriously underweight. Could she have an eating disorder and be projecting her obsession on you?

Two things you can do to help yourself in this situation: The first is, put the subject of your weight strictly off limits with your mother. Warn her that if she raises it, she'll see far less of you than she has. Then, follow through.

DEAR ABBY: I am begging you to have a medical health professional address this problem.

We were at a music festival last night, and sitting near us in front of the amplifier was a young mother with an infant who appeared to be about 5 weeks old. She was there for five hours!

I voiced my concern to a woman with her who said, "You can't tell her anything." I then spoke to a security guard, asking him to suggest that she move to the rear, away from those killer sound systems. No luck.

I'm ashamed to say that I did not go up and tell her to get away and save her child's poor little ears. So, I am begging you to print something about destroying children's hearing. I know some adults are plain stupid in this matter, but that infant had no choice.

"" EXASPERATED IN WILKES-BARRE, PA.

DEAR EXASPERATED: I took your letter to Dr. Allen Senne, director of audiology at the famous House Ear Clinic. This is what he had to say, and I hope parents will heed it:

"Any noise in excess of 85 decibels &

that's about as loud as a power lawn mower &

is damaging to the human ear. That's why OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines prohibit workers from working in areas where they're exposed to noise greater than 85 decibels for an extended period of time.

"Children are at least as susceptible to the effects of noise exposure as adults. In fact, professionals in the field of audiology are now seeing an increase in the incidence of younger people demonstrating hearing loss due to noise exposure from listening to iPods, Walkmans and other in-ear receivers because the digital sound produced by these devices can be played at louder levels without distortion.

"A typical music concert is amplified 110 to 120 decibels, which is significantly beyond any damage risk criteria, and has the potential for causing irreversible hearing problems. THIS CAN BE THE RESULT OF A ONE-TIME EXPOSURE.

"In fact, I recently treated a boy from Texas who had lost his hearing in one ear because he wanted to be close to the music and stood directly in front of an amplifier at a rock concert. That was a one-time exposure, so draw your own conclusions."

DEAR ABBY: Less than a year after our marriage, my wife wants to exchange the engagement ring I bought her for a larger diamond. Should I be upset about this?

"" UPSET IN ILLINOIS

DEAR UPSET: Your signature indicates that you are already upset about it. That said, your feelings are your feelings, and you are entitled to them. You are obviously the more sentimental partner in your marriage. Please try to put this in perspective. The real "jewel" isn't the diamond you put on her finger; it is you.

DEAR ABBY: I have been a widow for more than four years. An older man has started to court me. He has also been a widower for about four years. We both had long marriages before our spouses died.

He has asked me about my feelings on sex. Abby, what does a 59-year-old woman say to a 71-year-old man about sex without marriage? I'm very shy about this, and it seems to mean a lot to him. This is the first time I have dated since losing my husband, and I have no clue.

"" CLUELESS IN WISCONSIN

DEAR CLUELESS: The next time the gentleman asks you how you feel about sex, say: "I love sex. How do you feel about marriage?"

Dear Abby is written by , also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.